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Ben Simmons’ Largest Issue: a Lack of Growth

The Ben Simmons saga has hit a bit of an impasse. Simmons is refusing to play for now, and the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to want to budge on their trade demands. Ben Simmons playing another game for the 76ers is something neither side wants, but it seems rather inevitable at this point. Unless of course, the report that a small market team has significant interest has real legs. So, what can we expect from Simmons when he hits the court again? More of the same, which is the whole issue with Simmons’ game.


Ben Simmons, All-Star


Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

The magic of Ben Simmons is apparent. He’s huge with his 6’10”, 6’11” frame– above average even for the NBA. Yet, he doesn’t move anything like any other 6’11” players in the league. Think of someone like Marc Gasol or Andre Drummond lumbering up and down the court, and Ben Simmons is the same height! Simmons moves with the swiftness of a much smaller man, gliding along the court, crossing the entire floor in a few lightning fast strides. When Ben Simmons feels like attacking, it can be mesmerizing to watch. You see this guy and you think “the sky’s the limit for this guy.” 

You can also look at Simmons and see the skill. He can handle the ball well, much better than most other men of his height, who often look like they’ve never dribbled a ball in their lives. Simmons can also pass the ball, keeping his head on a swivel and hitting shooters from impossible angles. He can gun a pass through to a shooter in the corner, or float an oop with a simple flick of his wrist. 

So what’s the problem with Simmons? How can you not want a guy that has basically no athletic equal, with the size of a center but the speed and skill of a guard? The problem is that Ben Simmons did all of these things since he’s been a rookie in the league. The problem is Simmons has not improved, at least offensively, in five (four if you drop his technical rookie year which he missed) years.


Digging into the Numbers

Just a quick glance at Simmons’ numbers tell you all you need to know, especially if you normalize them by using his per 36 numbers.

Going strictly by volume, one could even say Simmons has regressed. His rookie year he had his second most total rebounds, his most assists, most blocks and second most points. There was a slight uptick in stats his second year of playing, which was fine for the time, but then he seemingly took a step back in years three and four, right when he should be entering his prime.


Ben Simmons, the Regressor

The worst part is, as the years have gone by, he’s actually taking less shots and getting less involved in the offense. Sure, that could be because his role has changed from second option to third or even fourth at times in the most recent season, but that in itself is a problem. Simmons is on a max contract, getting paid as one of the superstars of the league. His usage and role shouldn’t be going down, it should be going up. Guys like Tobias Harris and Seth Curry shouldn’t be higher priorities on the offense at this point in Simmons’ career, but they are.

Simmons usage rate was at its highest in his first year playing, and this latest year it was at its lowest.  In fact, his rookie year beats out his latest in nearly every offensive metric save one, his free throw percentage, and as the world saw in the playoffs, that wasn’t the most consistent of a jump forward. The other stat is field goal percentage, with his rookie year posting a 54.5% and his fourth shooting 55.7%, which is a basically negligible difference made even more worthless when you consider Simmons was taking more shots in year one. As a general rule of thumb, efficiency goes down as volume goes up. That brings up another worrying facet of Simmons’ game that has not gotten better, and has even gotten worse, which is shot selection.


Feeling Gun-shy 

Somehow, as Simmons has played in the NBA and theoretically gotten better, he’s actually gotten more one-dimensional from where he chooses to shoot from. In his rookie year, Simmons took 21.8% of his shots from the mid-range, defined here as shots from 10 feet to the three-point line. In this latest year, that number plummeted all the way down to 7.5%. If you go instead by form, 35.8% of Simmons’ attempts his rookie year were classified by Basketball-Reference as jumpshots. In year four? Just 18.3%. Simmons’ outside shot was always the area he needed to work on most, but instead of getting better at them, he’s actually getting worse. Technically, his three-point percentage has increased, from hitting 0/11 his rookie year to 3/10 in 2021. So congratulations to Simmons for that.  

Even passing, his supposedly most advanced skill, has basically been the same. His turnover percentage is nearly identical in year one vs. year four (19.5 to 19.6) and his assist percentage has actually dropped by six percent in the same time frame.  There’s really not one part of Simmons’ offensive game that you can really say has gotten better. He’s still amazing in transition, and more or less a burden in the half court, doing the same few moves and shots that he’s had since his days in LSU. Or as the data shows, LESS shots and moves.


The One Feather in the Simmons’ Cap

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors

Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports

It should be rather clear that Simmons has not gotten better offensively, but instead has arguably gotten worse, with an ever shrinking offensive role unbefitting a player making as much as he is. Credit must be given where it’s due however, and Simmons has gotten better on the other end of the floor. Funnily enough, the numbers don’t necessarily agree. His DBPM (defensive box plus/minus), DWS/G (defensive win shares per game) and his DRtg (defensive rating) have all gone down since his rookie year. The one stat shows major improvement (and to be fair it’s probably the best one) is D-LEBRON (acronym too long to explain), where he’s jumped from a 1.1 D-LEBRON (86.4 percentile of all NBA players) in year one to 1.9 (95th percentile). It is rather known though that defensive metrics are shaky, so this is one of those eye test things and Simmons has looked much better on the defensive front. He’s also made two first team All-Defense teams when he wasn’t really on the radar for those in his early days. 

Simmons has been vocal about caring a lot about defense these past two years, and it’s clear that he’s put a ton of time and effort in improving himself on that end. He had the baseline physicals to be good defensively, but putting them to good use is a different matter and he’s clearly done that. Which makes the fact that there’s been no offensive improvement even sadder. He’s not a lazy guy, he’s not someone that cannot improve in any way, or a finished product coming out of college. Those same physical attributes that make him a great defender could also make him an effective offensive player. What this regression implies is that he simply doesn’t care about improving offensively. 


Ben Simmons Trick Y’all

The last slap in the face in all of this are the teasing videos, tweets and pregame warmups that Simmons puts out, almost taunting Sixers fans. Every year he releases his clips of him shooting the ball, driving aggressively and splashing jumpers. In pregame shootaround, it’s not uncommon to see Simmons make 5-10 corner threes in a row with ease. Then when it comes to game time, it all disappears, and the same old Simmons comes out. It’s like he knows what the people want, but in direct violation of Jalen Rose’s orders, he does not give it to them.

It’s as if it’s a big joke being played on us all, and it’s getting pretty tiring. Maybe a coach out there really does have the secrets to unlocking Simmons’ potential, which to be clear is honestly a top five player in the league. Giannis himself is a living example of what someone that shares Simmons’ size and speed combo can do with steady improvement and no fear. It’s clear though now, more than ever, despite what Simmons says and shows, that the improvement won’t be in Philadelphia. It hasn’t been for four years, and it won’t change now.

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  1. Pingback: Nothing Personal, But Ben Simmons Is Done With Joel Embiid

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