One of the fun things about having budding young superstars in town is watching their evolution from the ground up. Summer gave us Rhys Hoskins, autumn gave us Carson Wentz, and now it looks as if we've got a hell of a winter in store with Ben Simmons. Look no further than the Sixers' performances against the Rockets this last week, when they staged two of the more entertaining basketball games you'll see. On Monday night, there were a lot of different reasons that they were able to avoid a repeat of the 105-104, buzzer-beating loss they suffered at the Wells Fargo five days earlier, but Simmons' performance was one of the more consequential factors. Throughout the 115-107 victory, he showed an assertiveness that was lacking in the previous meeting between the teams, both in traffic and in open space.
Below, you'll find Simmons' shot charts from Monday night's win (on the left), and from last week's loss. The green circles are makes, and the red Xs are misses (but you knew that). Take a look, and tell me what you see:
1. Those three green circles located on the elbows in the chart on the left are one of the most promising signs we've seen in Simmons' game in recent nights. When Simmons was drafted, a lot of us wondered about his ability to develop a long-range shooting game, but now that we've had a chance to watch him with the ball in his hands, it is pretty clear that he is going to have an opportunity to make a killing in that foul-line-extended area of the court. In the first game against the Rockets, he was hesitant to exploit those open 15-footers. He attempted just one shot outside of the paint, and it was a little baby jumper from just outside the low block. That was pretty much par for the course throughout his first handful of games. In the second game, though, you can see his cluster of shots has expanded. He was 3 for 3 from the elbow, and it was a pretty thing to behold. Simmons might not have the purest stroke, but he has looked great when pulling up in rhythm. In that sense, his jumper is similar to the one Embiid uses when facing up on the baseline or from the elbow. Because of his height and the need to protect the drive, it's scarily easy for him to get it off.
In the table below, you'll find a breakdown of Simmons' night-by-night shooting by range. Note that, in the Sixers' three wins, Simmons is 4 for 6 from the foul line extended (0 for 0 in losses). He is 4 for 8 from the baseline and high paint (2 for 9 in losses).
2. Simmons' confidence in his jumper isn't the only thing he showed in the second game against the Rockets. He was also much more aggressive once he got into traffic, attacking the rim in straight lines rather than fading away.
Field goal makes/attempts around the rim, first three games: 14 for 24
Field goal makes/attempts around the rim, last four games: 20 for 27
I've spent part of the last couple of days looking at various players' shooting percentages around the rim early in their careers, and the vast majority improve substantially at finishing as they mature. Heading into Monday's game, Simmons was hitting at around 65 percent from inside three feet, which is about average, but the LeBron Jameses and Kevin Durants of the world hit at 75-plus percent. Given Simmons' length, I see no reason that he won't ultimately end up there.