CLEVELAND – Is Ben Simmons giving the 76ers the production they need right now?
Simmons’s reluctance to take perimeter shots is one of the biggest subjects of debate surrounding the team’s struggles.
“I think by and large, he does a lot of things that people don’t either understand or see, or it is in a metric,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said on Sunday. "From Day 1, I’ve said I want him to continue to be an elite finisher. I want him to be a reliable 75% free-throw shooter. And I want [him] to feature on an all-defensive team.
“I haven’t blinked from those three things that are most important to me.”
But the outside expectation was that this would be the season when Simmons displayed more jump shots and three-pointers. Doing so would prevent teams from sagging off Simmons as in seasons past and make him more effective late in games.
Yet through 11 games, Simmons has not attempted a three-pointer despite having focused on outside shooting this summer with trainer Chris Johnson. So far, he has taken only two shots outside of 16 feet and made both of them.
In fact, 62 of his 116 shot attempts (52.5%) have come at the rim. Forty-eight attempts (41.3%) have come from 3 to 10 feet. Meanwhile, Simmons has taken four shots from 10 to 16 feet.
Brown has always said he would be patient with Simmons, the All-Star point guard who is looking for teammates rather than finding his own shot.
“I’m just trying to make the right play,” Simmons said. “I’ve always been that type of player. I see and try to make the best play possible for my team.”
Brown said nobody can underestimate how difficult it is to be an NBA point guard.
Said Simmons: “And when you look at Joel Embiid and you look at Tobias Harris, and there’s Al Horford and [Josh Richardson] has got skills all over the place, and I have the ball, there is responsibility with that.”
Simmons said there are times, looking at different matchups, when the Sixers (8-5) push him to be more assertive offensively. With a more balanced attack, his offensive numbers are down from the previous seasons. He’s averaging 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and is tied for 10th in the league with 7.1 assists. Simmons is also shooting just 55.9 percent from the foul line. However, he’s making his mark on defense with 2.3 steals, third in the league.
But as the Phoenix Suns showed on Nov. 4, teams are going to exploit Simmons’ hesitancy to shoot from the perimeter. The Suns sagged away from Simmons, cut off his driving lanes, and guarded him with Aron Baynes, a center. Simmons finished that game with six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
The Sixers could opt to take the ball out of his hands and play him closer to the basket at power forward. But they are invested in him as their point guard. In July, the 23-year-old signed a five-year, $170 million contract extension that starts next season.
“How do we empower him to go be Ben Simmons and play in open court and understand how the league defends you?” Brown said. “We are trying to fix some of those things that everyone talks about with his shot.”
In regard to looking for his shot, the Sixers are letting him figure things out on his own. At the same time, they have been encouraging him to shoot since his rookie year of 2017-18.
“But you know, that is him,” Embiid said. "He is comfortable playing certain ways. For us to win, we are going to need him to shoot. But you know, I am fine with him playing his game, not forcing anything.