On the eve of the start of the 76ers’ training camp, Ben Simmons professed a renewed love for basketball and confidence in the one major hiccup of his game -- the jump shot.
Simmons reiterated during the team’s media day Monday what he said the previous week in an Associated Press interview: that this summer he fell in love with the game again.
It seems curious that a 23-year-old player coming off his first All-Star season and an exciting seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal loss to eventual NBA champion Toronto would fall out of love with basketball, but Simmons addressed the issue on Monday.
“I think I was too worried about what people were saying, what was going around, too many outside noises,” Simmons said. “I was able to really block them out this summer and not really focus on what people were saying.”
That suggests he really took to heart what others were saying before. Now Simmons, who signed a five-year, $170 million extension in the offseason, says he no longer cares about his critics, especially on social media.
“I don’t really care anymore unless it is coming from somebody in my circle or somebody that is going to help me get better,” Simmons said.
On media day, Simmons was peppered with questions about his jump shot, which has been MIA in his first two NBA seasons. He has yet to hit a three-pointer in 17 regular-season attempts, most of which were buzzer heaves, including six last season. He has been reluctant to take medium-range jumpers, too. According to NBA.com, 443 of the 540 regular-season field goals he made last season were from less than 5 feet and another 76 were from 5 to 9 feet.
This summer, Simmons hired highly regarded trainer Chris Johnson to work with him on his jump shot in Los Angeles.
“We have been working on everything, from ballhandling to touch around the rim, floaters, jumpers, just getting a consistent rhythm, I feel comfortable," said Simmons, who averaged 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists in 79 games last season.
Simmons said after the Game 7 loss to Toronto, he did some serious reflection.
“I think the one thing I sat down with myself and thought was, ‘What do I want out of this game?’ and it is championships,” he said. “I want to win rings. In order to do that, I got to be one of the leaders, and I have to lead by example, and I need to be better and get better.”
He’s already an All-Star, but the one thing holding him back is the jumper. And until it is shown consistently, there will be questions, the main one being whether he is more confident with his perimeter game.
“I don’t know how much more, I think I am more confident in the work I have been putting in,” he said. “That is the best way to say it: I am more confident in what I have been doing and the reps we have been putting in.”
While everybody focuses on shooting, the 6-foot-10 Simmons has developed into a better-than-average defensive player. He has big ambitions on the defensive end.
“I want to be the best defensive player on the team,” he said. “Hopefully everybody on my team hears that and they try to do the same thing.”
At least one teammate also has high defensive ambitions: Fellow All-Star Joel Embiid said one of his goals is to be the NBA defensive player of the year.
With Embiid, Simmons, and newcomers Al Horford and Josh Richardson leading the way, the Sixers have the ability to be among the league’s top defensive teams.
One major unknown is whether Simmons can truly add a jumper that opponents have to respect. At least Simmons will enter training camp on Tuesday in a positive frame of mind.
He said he was recently talking to his brother about the positive vibe he feels about his game.
“I don’t know what changed, but whatever it was, I feel locked in and ready,” Simmons said. “The summer has been huge for me.”