Ben Simmons’ jumpshot – or lack of it – has been one of the biggest NBA storylines since he made his debut at the start of the 2017/18 season. There’s a tendency to focus on what athletes can’t do, rather than what they excel at. Simmons has been an extreme victim of that – his shooting given more attention than his All-Star play.
The flip side of this is that when Simmons does pull up for a jumper outside the paint, the NBA following world gasps. There were a couple of moments last season, but they were usually under shotclock pressure. In preseason, we saw Simmons take shots he previously hasn’t. On 8th October, the 6’10” point guard made his first NBA three-pointer and Wells Fargo Center went bonkers.
The fascination over Simmons’ jumper isn’t just because he was the first overall pick in 2016. The hours of podcasts and talkshows dedicated to it are not just so that people have something to talk about (though that’s part of it).
Simmons attracts such interest because of his potential. He’s already an All-Star and could easily find himself on an All-Defensive team this season. What’s scary – or exciting, depending on your point of view – is that Simmons is still a fair distance away from what he could be.
The jumpshot is the key component. It could take Simmons from an All-Star lock to an MVP. Doing so, of course, would change the Philadelphia 76ers’ path, too. In fact, even if individually he doesn’t ascend to MVP contention, Simmons taking jumpers alters so much for the Sixers.
Philadelphia are +650 to win the title, making them fourth favourites behind the Clippers, Lakers and Bucks. Simmons’ shooting could see the Sixers’ price become a lot shorter over the coming weeks.
Floor spacing has been a long-term concern for the Sixers. Simmons and Joel Embiid are an imperfect fit. The loss of JJ Redick – and to a lesser extent Jimmy Butler – has left them short on shooting. Without Butler, their crunch-time offence will look different. Simmons role at the end of games depends on his shooting.
No one’s expecting Simmons to start hitting threes like Redick, but a willingness to take them, and hit enough to make defences adapt, will open up Philadelphia’s offence. Simmons has yet to hit a regular season three-pointer, and he attempted just six in 2700 minutes last season. If he can begin to take them when offered by the defence – as Giannis Antetokounmpo has done – the percentage he makes won’t matter too much.
Antetokounmpo was never as shy from deep as Simmons, but he’s a good comparison. Still struggling with his own shot, the Greek Freak has continued to take them when required. A couple of attempts per game, even if only hitting 25% of them, open up more space for teammates. In Simmons’ case, this will be a huge benefit for Embiid.
It’s not just the long ball that Simmons needs to add. His reluctance to pull up for jumpers is similar closer to the basket – he attempted only 99 shots from between 10 feet and the three-point line last season, making 25 of them.
With a postseason spot as good as guaranteed (Philly are -4500 to make the playoffs), the regular season is Simmons’ opportunity to get comfortable shooting from outside the paint. Without the pressure and intensity of the playoffs, he can ease his way into using his jumpshot in competitive NBA games. This Sixers team will be fine in the regular season – they could well hit PointsBets’ +100 on over 54.5 wins.
Their aim is to go deep in the postseason, though, and their chances of doing just that shift significantly depending on Simmons. A championship is still possible if Simmons’ jumper remains a rare sight, but there’s no question Brett Brown’s team’s chances increase notably if Simmons can become a scoring threat outside the paint.
Those tight, slow-paced playoff fourth quarters will change completely for the Sixers. Space will open for Embiid to operate inside. Simmons will be a key cog in the offence, rather than hanging in the dunkers spot. Depending on his progress as a shooter, we could even see Simmons filling the Butler role.
FanDuel have Simmons at +10000 to win MVP. That’s the same price as De’Aaron Fox and an injured duo of Victor Oladipo and Zion Williamson. Considering how good he is already, those odds are superb value. Being second fiddle to Embiid hurts his chances, but he will have plenty of opportunity to shine when Embiid is on the bench or sitting out games.
It remains to be seen what Simmons’ shooting is like this season. Adding a serviceable jumper to his elite defence, domineering athleticism and LeBron James-level court vision would make him an All-NBA player. Taking a step from there to MVP isn’t all that far-fetched.
The Sixers are already an inner-circle title contender, even if Simmons shoots like he did last season. FoxBet have Philly at +250 to come out of the East – they become definite favourites if Simmons attempts just a few shots per game from 10 feet and beyond.
An argument can already be made for the Sixers to win the championship. The strength of their case increases appreciably if Simmons’ jumper is functional. It gives them two MVP candidates alongside Al Horford, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson – that’s going to take some beating.