Ben Simmons was tasked with working on three things in the offseason: his jumper, free throws and finishing around the rim.
While the first two can open up and help Simmons’ game for obvious reasons, and he has increased his percentage from the free throw line, it’s the last area -- finishing -- that can have the most immediate impact on Simmons' production.
Already dominant around the basket and driving downhill, Simmons has the size that gives him an immediate advantage over a large number of opposing defenses. Though his finishing still needs work and his shooting percentages are down from the rim to 10 feet away from the basket, he does seem to be actively seeking out more low-post opportunities.
This gives Simmons not only a better look and chance to score, but because he often has a size advantage he’s drawing more fouls (4.5 per game) this season than he did last year (3.9), and getting to the free throw line more frequently.
This is the kind of action you would love to see Simmons take on more often. With shooters lined up around the perimeter and the threat of Joel Embiid on the weak side, the defense is not willing to completely collapse around Simmons. He’s long enough and strong enough to back down people in the post and it pays off.
In the above clip from Wednesday’s game against the Knicks, Simmons catches deep in the post by design. Curling around an elbow screen, Simmons draws in the smaller defender who goes under the pick. Once Simmons posts up on the defender he has an easy mismatch to exploit.
“We play out of an open post, and the ability to go find the rim and judge who is guarding you has always been there,” Brett Brown said Thursday. “I think, like anything, when you find success you’re going to try to get to that environment more often. That is what I’ve seen. I’m seeing him find that environment more often. We have a play that gets him there on purpose.”
As Brown said, Simmons has been searching out the open post more often. In the clip below, we see him take advantage of a post-up opportunity before the play is initiated.
Simmons reads the defense, sees that he can get a first step on his man, and cuts to the same low-block position he would on the designed play. Embiid recognizes the action and is able to deliver the ball to Simmons before the defense is settled.
“There are reads that are always available to him,” Brown said. “At 6-foot-10 he’s really hard to guard on the move. And then finding and facing the rim, our guys are starting to understand how to find him.”
In the clip above, as the ball swings to the right, Simmons sees another chance to post up his man. This time, he doesn’t have the size advantage, but he has the defender alone and behind him. Instead of continuing to move the ball for a dribble hand off to Jimmy Butler, Amir Johnson finds Simmons who then gets the and-1 on the play.
“It’s that mentality of finding the rim,” Brown said. “I’m always on him trying to get to the line 8-to-10 times.”
As stated before, Simmons' finishing still needs work, but in the evolution of his game, being more aggressive in the post and seeking out open spots gives him more chances at high percentage shots and trips to the free throw line.