His five-year, $170 million extension will be the largest contract signed by a player who can’t shoot. It might be the only contract in NBA history signed by a player who won’t shoot — at least not the sorts of shots that accompany his job description.
Simmons is a point guard, but he made just 18 of 71 shots from 10 to 14 feet (25.4 percent) and made just two of 21 from 15 to 19 feet (9.5 percent). Both were worst among players who shot at least that many times. He also missed all of his three-pointers, which, of course, also was worst.
It sounds outrageous, right? The Sixers just agreed to trade a gunner nicknamed Jimmy Buckets partly because he couldn’t coexist with Benny Ducats. Incredible.
Also, inevitable. It had to happen. Simmons does so much else so well and has so much potential to do so much more that this extension is no-more surprising than Jimmy Butler’s serial insubordination.
We all knew it was coming, but it feels strange now that it’s here. We knew it was coming despite the fact that Simmons has never made a three-pointer. We all knew the Sixers would max him out, even though, beyond 15 feet, Simmons is no more a threat to score than Shaquille O’Neal — NBA or TNT version.
This extension might be hard for Sixers supporters to swallow, mainly because everyone knows that the hardest thing to do in basketball is shoot. That’s why the longest shots count for three points instead of two. That’s why players work so hard at it.
Most players, anyway.
Simmons, who missed his first season with a foot injury, shot only six three′s last season, yet he will make more money in this contract over five seasons than the four-year deals of Irving, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James, who averaged between five and six threes last season. These are the days in which we live.
It’s not just the threes, either. Sixers coach Brett Brown set Simmons a simple goal for his second season: to become a more-proficient free-throw shooter than the 56.0 percent he made as a rookie. Maybe 70 percent last season. Simmons said he wanted to hit 80. Last summer, Ben hired his older brother, Liam, away from his assistant coaching job at the University of California at Riverside to be his shooting instructor.
Indeed, his free-throw percentage improved … by 4 percent. Up to 60. He flew past Shaq and Dennis Rodman, and he’s approaching DeAndre Jordan territory. Either Ben isn’t trying, or Liam’s the worst shooting coach in history. Or both.
The question is, of course, if Simmons hasn’t developed an outside shot after three healthy NBA summers, what incentive does he have to develop one now? What incentive exists now that didn’t exist 36 months ago, when the Sixers drafted him first overall?
That’s the Sixers’ hope, anyway; that Simmons’ professionalism will lead him to develop a stroke that isn’t too embarrassing for him to use in a game. That’s the issue. His shot is so ugly, he’s ashamed of it.
Simmons doesn’t want to be Magic Johnson or LeBron James. He wants the next generation to want to be Ben Simmons. Given his abhorrent shooting motion — elbow out, hand on the side of the ball, plenty of palm and little fingertips — right now, being Ben Simmons is a punchline. That won’t always be true.
This contract is a testament to how good Simmons is at virtually everything else. He’s fit, fast, skilled, and instinctive. He finally realized his capacity to be a lockdown defender, and he should be an all-defensive team lock for the next decade. Finally? He’s played two seasons. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant didn’t make an all-defensive team until their fourth seasons.
If you don’t think he can learn, then you haven’t paid attention. Simmons is just 22. He’s a power forward who became a rookie of the year and All-Star point guard and learned on the job. That’s like a bus driver becoming a fighter pilot in the middle of a dogfight.
And here’s the thing: He’s nowhere near as good as he’s going to be.
He still doesn’t run the half-court offense smoothly: doesn’t always deliver passes on time, in rhythm, with extreme accuracy, proper pace, or correct anticipation. He still turns the ball over too much; only Russell Westbrook and Trae Young gave it away more than Simmons’ 3.5 time per game, and both averaged more assists. Simmons doesn’t manipulate defenses. He often runs the break with the elegance of a bridge troll.
All of these things will come. So will some semblance of an outside shot. It will come sooner than later.