After a dominant rookie-of-the-year campaign, Ben Simmons cemented himself as one of the brightest rising stars in the NBA. In just one year in the league, his skill-set and limitations, and the expectations for his future, quickly came into focus.
There is no doubt that Simmons' historic rookie season exceeded expectations. Coming off a redshirt season because of injury, it seemed he didn't skip a beat, with his game translating almost seamlessly to the pro level. He posted a rookie-high 12 triple-doubles, the second-most ever by a rookie behind Oscar Robertson's 26 in 1960-61.
Simmons quickly garnered comparisons to Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Opposing coaches had to find an efficient way to defend a 6-foot-10 point guard who is lightning-quick and deadly when let loose in transition.
Coach Brett Brown said that Simmons has seemed more prepared and confident through training camp and the preseason than he was heading into his first season, and both Brown and Simmons have said the goal is for Simmons to make an all-NBA defensive first team.
"This year he's come back incredibly committed, like a real pro," Brown said. "His spirit, his leadership, his attitude is different than it was last year."
With more strength, maturity, and playing time, becoming one of the league's elite defenders seems like an extremely reasonable goal for Simmons.
Despite the historic numbers and the accomplishments, the truth is there is room for improvement, and that's a good thing.
No one is expecting Simmons to make a huge leap and revamp his entire game. He will likely look a lot like he did last season, but by adding to his low-post game, getting to the free-throw line, and continuing to work on his jumper, he'll be well on his way to an even more illustrious career.
Right now, Simmons' halfcourt game consists of using his size and speed to bulldoze through the defense and find his way to short runners, floaters, and at-rim buckets. That works really well for Simmons and he's very good at it. There's no reason to completely backpedal from that being the bread and butter of his game.
Developing more of a post game will open up more options for Simmons, and as a 6-10 guard there's no reason for him not to exploit the defense and use some post moves to his advantage.
In order to capitalize on his time down low, Simmons needs to improve his finishing. Relying on his size while also improving his footwork when he's in the post will give him great position. His first step on a defender is deceptively quick already, so slight improvements with his touch will be a priority.
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Getting to the line
This area of improvement is two-fold, and very simple: Simmons needs to take more free throws and increase his shooting percentage from the free-throw line.
Brown has made it clear that this is a necessity for Simmons. For a lengthy guard who has the ball in his hands as much as Simmons does and the attention that he demands from the defense, there's no reason he can't increase his free-throw attempts from the 4.2 that he averaged last season.
"Getting him to shoot six, seven, eight, nine free throws a game and then going there and improving from his percentage last year," Brown said when asked what a realistic goal is for Simmons.
It's no secret that Simmons struggled at the free-throw line last season, averaging just 56 percent. Once he gets to the charity stripe, he needs to make the shots. This comes down to practice and repetition.
In the preseason the officials were calling games very tight and Simmons pointed out that after the first few games of the regular season, it will be easier to look at some film and determine what his best plan of action will be in finding ways to the line. It's a good sign that he's thinking ahead and looking for ways to take advantage of being fouled.
The jump shot
Simmons said himself that he won't be chucking up three-pointers any time soon, and that's fine. He has plenty of time to develop a three-pointer.
But, there is no denying that an improved jumper and an outside shot of any kind will open up not only Simmons' game but would benefit the entire Sixers team.
This is less of an expectation and more of a long-term goal. His not being a threat from outside hurt the Sixers in their playoff series against the Celtics, so at the very least he has to become more comfortable taking midrange and short jumpers so that he's still a threat if defenders sag off so far that they collapse driving lanes.