Ben Simmons attempted two jump shots against the Clippers on New Year’s Day. Simmons’ two jumpers were not shot clock heaves.
One was a 17-footer on the baseline when Tobias Harris left Simmons with time and space on the perimeter. His other was when he attempted a 12-foot turnaround jumper around halfway through the first quarter. He missed both of them.
Missing, at least at the moment, does not matter too much for Simmons. In his NBA career to date, Simmons has seldom, if ever, shot from outside the paint (without shot clock pressure).
That did not stop him winning Rookie of the Year. Nor will it stop him being an All-Star this year.
This is the next stage for Simmons, though, as he transitions from high-ceiling young player to MVP candidate. He has the game to be that good, but without adding a shot further than eight feet from the basket, his potential is limited.
We have all seen the videos of him knocking down three-pointers in practice. Translating that into a serviceable shot in the NBA is a big leap, but it’s one that can only be made if he starts attempting them, even if he misses.
Simmons stock will rise dramatically if he can begin to shoot from mid-range, and yet more so if he can occasionally drop down an open three. Take a look at Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example. His shooting is still his greatest weakness, but he can at least keep the defence honest when he has the ball on the perimeter.
Antetokounmpo is a good example of how much difference it can make. Just taking the shots changes how teams have to guard you. Giannis is hitting 15.2% of his threes this year, and sure, teams still sit off him a bit, but it’s not the same as Simmons where the defence does not need to worry about closing him out.
Learning to shoot is far from impossible. Magic Johnson and LeBron James both did it while playing in the NBA. Simmons’ game has clear similarities between that duo, though it’s obviously premature to suggest he can come close to their achievements.
It’s not just Simmons that stands to benefit. Everyone in the NBA knows Philadelphia are struggling with spacing. Joel Embiid has complained publicly about it, and Elton Brand is expected to be on the lookout for shooting either via trade or the buyout market. A lot of their problems are eased if Simmons can develop at least some range.
Missing two jump shots against the Clippers in an eventful New Year’s Day game would be meaningless for every other NBA player. For Simmons, it is a significant step in the right direction. Philadelphia need him to take these shots regardless of if he hits them and having the confidence to attempt an 18-footer is the only way his game can improve.
The Sixers have processed their way to a championship standard core. Simmons is integral to their future but being a contender with a player who will not even attempt a shot is almost impossible. Simmons deserves applause for attempting the shots – that, for now, is progress.