Brett Brown had the conversation again with Ben Simmons before the Sixers played the Clippers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. It is not an infrequent discussion. The coach would like to see Simmons try a few more jump shots. Simmons nods. This is not news to him.
"He's earned the right to [shoot]," said Brown. "He invested the time. It's what he did all summer. You don't think he feels what everybody's dying to see? It's going to come to him sooner or later, on his terms. To think anything else would be really naïve."
So far this season, the smart money is on "later." Entering the win over the Clippers – in which Simmons played well and was an important part of the offense – the 6-foot-10 point guard had taken only nine of his 80 shot attempts farther than 10 feet from the basket. As if to prove the point of his hesitancy, only one of those tries went through the rim.
Given his other gifts, this is not necessarily a problem. Defenders play off him as you would expect, but he can still get past them and make his way to the rim. Would that be easier and create more opportunities for himself and others if his outside shot had to be respected? Sure, and that is where Brown is trying to lead him. Pushing him might come later, but for now, the suggestions are just that.
"I wish he would use it more. I would like to see him gather, come to a jump stop and just shoot over people. He's not going to get his shot blocked," Brown said. "It's easy for me to try to promote it. He plays the game. He hasn't done it as much as I wish. At this stage, I'm OK with it."
That might be because Brown has other fish to fillet on his roster, and more severe shooting issues on the other side of his starting backcourt. Simmons doesn't spread the floor with his outside shot, but he does plenty. Markelle Fultz, also a former No. 1 pick in the draft, doesn't shoot well from distance, either, and when he is on the floor with Simmons tends to drift rudderless around the perimeter.
On the court with JJ Redick, who backs up Fultz in the first half of games and becomes the starting off-guard in the second half, Simmons has more room, as does everyone else. That is because Redick has to be guarded as soon as he steps out of the locker room.
The concept is not a difficult one. Before the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers was asked about the challenge of winning with a point guard who doesn't shoot all that well. In Boston, Rivers coached Rajon Rondo, who wasn't the best from the perimeter.
"We put a lot of shooting around him. We didn't have a problem scoring," Rivers said. "Clearly, you can win with a guy like Ben Simmons on your basketball team. He's similar to Rondo because he has the IQ to do it. I don't think I'd be that concerned. Where Rondo was great was when he wasn't on the ball. He was a great cutter. He was a great mover. I'm assuming that's what Ben will be."
Brown has been running screens for Simmons and dropping him into the low post after handing off the ball, taking advantage of post-up advantage against teams that don't switch off their defense. The reward is either easy baskets or getting to the foul line. If he waits a beat, the defense usually opts to double-team him, and that leads to kick-outs and open shots on the perimeter for teammates. Of course, having teammates who can make them is always a plus.
As for Simmons' shooting game on Thursday, he made two short shots in the lane area, a low-post basket off a feed from Amir Johnson, a breakaway basket off a turnover, another basket on a drive to the hole and – wait for it – a 12-foot hook off a spin move. Yes, his second basket of the season from more than 10 feet out. Not a jump shot, but whatever.
"A little," Simmons said, asked if Brown's encouragement led him to expand his range a bit. "But it was also me just taking what they were giving."
On this night, the baby steps were overshadowed by the monstrous game of Joel Embiid and the lightning flash of Fultz to the basket several times at the end of a flagging third quarter. They were there, however. Brown said he wished some of those longish hook shots were straight-up jumpers instead, but maybe that will come with time, too.