Ben Simmons doesn’t need to make 3-pointers – but he does need to be able to hit an open midrange jumper.
When the Philadelphia 76ers had their media day, Simmons told reporters that he wouldn’t “come in and hit threes this season.” The 22-year-old took 11 shots from beyond the arc last season and didn’t make one.
Simmons doesn’t need to make 3-pointers at a decent rate to be elite. Not for his game. That’s because he influences games primarily with his skills as a facilitator. During media day, the 2018 Rookie of the Year mentioned that he hasn’t been on a team where he’s been asked to take shots.
Simmons can score because he’s able to get into the lane and finish at the rim easily. He averaged 15.8 points per game last season without making a 3-pointer, and he shot 54.5 percent from the field, ranking No. 13 in the league for the category.
But he is not a scorer. He’s not of the ilk of a Kevin Durant or James Harden, some of the best scorers in the league. Though Simmons is 6-foot-10, he is a point guard in the truest sense. He’s a passer first.
What Simmons does need to do well is hit mid-range jumpers at a solid clip. This will help expand his game so when driving lanes are taken away, he has the shot to fall back on.
The video below is a clip from Game 2 of the Sixers’ series against the Boston Celtics last season. Here, Simmons drives toward the middle of the floor, and the Celtics were in help, with their eyes on Simmons. When Simmons came off a screen from JJ Redick, Marcus Smart took the drive away from him. Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Terry Rozier were also there in case Simmons somehow got past Smart.
This situation shows why Simmons at least needs a midrange jumper. While he has no issue driving to the basket, good defensive teams can take away that ability at times. The pass to Redick shouldn’t have been the play here. Simmons had a look to Dario Saric because Brown is sagging off him; his eyes are on Simmons.
About 46 percent of Simmons’ shots last season came 0-3 feet from the basket; he shot 74.4 percent from that area. But 17.4 percent of his shots last season came 10-16 feet from the basket, and he shot 31.6 percent from that area.
Simmons having a better jumper isn’t completely about him making more jump shots, either. He needs to at least shoot more so defenses will have a reason to guard him tighter outside the key.
The video below is another clip from Game 2, and here the Sixers’ spacing was messed up during the possession. Simmons passed to Joel Embiid, who then handed the ball off to Redick. In this spot, Redick curled off the screens Embiid and Simmons set.
With the offense set and space created, Redick then passed to Simmons. And as the young guard dribbled around the left side, he had a pull-up jumper before Smart and Aron Baynes pinched on him. This is where the spacing starts to crumble. Simmons got too deep, and he got stuck because Embiid remained near the elbow. Smart has a reason to stay in his position and provide help if needed for Baynes.
Building an effective mid-range jumper takes practice because a player has to hit pull-up jumpers or use dribble moves to create space. Pull-ups are hard because a player has to have enough space to rise over a defender while also maintaining focus on the shot.
Simmons probably won’t make defenses overly concerned with his jump shot this season. But the key for him will be to shoot more in 2018 and beyond, as that’s how his game will expand and improve.