The Ben Simmons Problem: Does He Need a Jumpshot?

Ben Simmons has been one of the most controversial players ever since he entered the NBA in 2016. Even though he won Rookie of the Year in 2018 and became an all star in 2019 and 2020, expert analysts and NBA fans have questioned his true ability and potential. Simmons has shot a total of 23 three point shots in his 3 years in the NBA, only making 2 of them. By being a point guard without any semblance of a perimeter shot, Simmons is a unique player. But does Ben Simmons need a jumpshot to succeed in the NBA and truly lead a team, or is there something else holding him back?

Shooting Stats

As we already know, Ben Simmons refuses to shoot 3 pointers in game. Of his 23 attempted three point shots, only 15 counted as actual shots whereas the other 8 counted as heaves. Simmons’s 3 point rate equals 0.009, the lowest of any all star guard in NBA history. Additionally, anyone that has watched Simmons play knows that he shoots almost exclusively in the paint. His efficiency in the paint could be the key to his NBA future. Here are his shooting stats for this season.

Simmons takes about 64% of his shots in the restricted area, converting them at a 72% rate. However, his efficiency drops off severely outside of the restricted area, making only 37% of his shots in the paint (excluding restricted area) and only 16% of his mid range shots. His three point percentage is so high because he has made 1 of 3 this season, so it is 33% right now (the eFG% shows 0.545 because it has a weight of 1.5 for 3 pointers and because of rounding error). The breakdown of his shots shows that Simmons should take more of his shots in the restricted area as he is wasting possessions by taking inefficient shots like paint and mid rangers.

Yet, there is still hope for him. Simmons can still contribute by varying his shots inside the paint to increase his efficiency. Right now, he shoots 46% on hook shots (87th percentile) and 33% on fadeaways (27th percentile). His hook shot is well developed, but he needs to improve his efficiency on fadeaways to become a better scorer.

Projected Shooting

Since Ben Simmons has a low sample size of actual 3 point attempts (non heaves), no one really knows how well he truly shoots. However, we can try to predict his 3 point shooting ability using other stats, such as free throw percentage. Many people use free throw percentage as a benchmark for how well a player shoots, and Simmons has shot far more free throws than 3 point shots. Based on his free throw percentage (62.7%), Simmons is expected to have a 3 point percentage of about 30%. However, this is probably high since Simmons has not been able to shoot at this level even from mid range.

%FGA = percent of field goals attempted from that range

Here are Ben Simmons’s shooting stats across his three seasons based on shot distance. His efficiency from the paint (3-10 feet) has decreased by a lot this year, which is probably an anomaly due to the addition of Al Horford who further clogs up the paint. Additionally, both his shooting percentage and percentage of shots from mid range has decreased every year. As a result, we can see that Simmons is trying to avoid the least efficient shot in basketball and instead attacking the rim more. These results are promising as Simmons is trying to take better shots, but not promising because they don’t give any reason to believe that he can shoot 3 point shots well.

Horford has been a major reason for the 76ers disappointment this season

Optimal Shot Selection

Using this year’s shooting stats, I have determined Ben Simmons optimal shot selection. This method tries to increase the frequency of the most efficient shots of a player, while maintaining some variability in shot selection.

For this exercise, I used Ben Simmons’ current non heave 3 point percentage, which is 0.231. Based on his Optimal %FGA, Simmons actually has a very good shot selection, with the only suggestions being to take a few more restricted area shots and fewer paint shots. Additionally, Simmons should at least try to shoot some 3 pointers since he is not going to get better without in game practice.

Team and Player Fits

Players

The 76ers management should try to acquire certain types of players to complement Ben Simmons’s play style. Simmons is best when he is distributing and assisting his teammates on 3 point shots. The 76ers had several players that were good catch and shoot players in Simmons’s rookie year, such as Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, and JJ Redick. However, the 76ers have lost or traded away all of those players in the years since. This is significant because Simmons’s performance is linked to his teammates’ catch and shoot abilities. The 76ers should try to get more 3 and D players or proficient shooters instead of signing bigs to clog up the paint (like Al Horford).

A few player fits include, but are not limited to:

  • Davis Bertans | C&S eFG%: 0.641 | Was | $7M (2020)
  • Danilo Gallinari | C&S eFG%: 0.629 | OKC | $22.6M (2020)
  • CJ McCollum | C&S eFG%: 0.696 | Por | $27.6M (2024)
  • Kevin Love | C&S eFG%: 0.592 | Cle | $28.9M (2023)
  • JJ Redick | C&S eFG%: 0.684 | NOP | $13.5M (2021)
  • Doug McDermott | C&S eFG%: 0.635 | Ind | $7.3M (2021)
  • Seth Curry | C&S eFG%: 0.721 | Dal | $7.4M (2023)
  • Meyers Leonard | C&S eFG%: 0.636 | Mia | $11.3M (2020)
  • Svi Mykhailiuk | C&S eFG%: 0.629 | Det | $1.4M (2021)
CJ McCollum would be a good fit for Simmons and the 76ers

Each of these players are fantastic catch and shoot players. Currently, the 76ers have only four players that consistently shoot over 50% on catch and shoot shots (Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott, Tobias Harris). An addition of one of these players or a different player that is a good shooter (like Buddy Hield) would vastly improve the team with Simmons on the court. This offseason, the 76ers should try to trade ineffective players like Al Horford and Josh Richardson for players like McCollum or Love or McDermott. Therefore, the 76ers would be able to keep their superstars together since shooters also fit with Embiid’s post play style as well. Trading some of the 76ers current players for better fitting ones would improve their team while maintaining their core and salary, potentially taking the 76ers to the next level.

Teams

As previously stated, the 76ers have gotten rid of their best catch and shoot players. the 76ers ranked 11th in catch and shoot field goal percentage in Simmons’s first and second years, but 20th in catch and shoot field goal percentage this year. That is the prime reason that the 76ers have been such a disappointment this year. It is not the players’ fault or Brett Brown’s fault, but rather management’s fault.

Reuniting with Butler on the Heat would be the best fit for Ben Simmons

Simmons may leave the 76ers when he has the opportunity to. Or the 76ers may break up their two star players and trade Simmons away. His best fits would be the teams that have the best catch and shoot players. Therefore, Ben Simmons’s best team fit would be the Miami Heat. With shooters such as Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kelly Olynyk, the Heat could complement Simmons’s offensive play style in a way that no other team could. Additionally, the Heat are not bad on defense with great defenders in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Of course, money and Jimmy Butler’s time with the 76ers are issues that make this scenario very unlikely.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I do not believe Ben Simmons will ever be a good shooter, but I also do not think that he needs to be a great shooter to be a great player. Simmons likely has a true 3 point shooting percentage somewhere between 23% (current non heave %) and 30% (predicted 3P%), meaning that shooting 3 pointers will never be efficient for him. However, Simmons can definitely become a better play under a few conditions. Ben Simmons can potentially lead a title team if these things happen:

  • He improves his efficiency on fadeaways
  • He shoot more layups while limiting paint shots
  • The 76ers management acquires more catch and shoot players
  • He maintains his current defense and rebounding skills
  • He shoots 3 pointers at least sometimes so the defense has to come further to guard him

Ben Simmons has the potential to lead a team (hopefully the 76ers) to a championship if he can improve in several areas, but he also may never be better than he is now if management doesn’t get players that fit his play style. Simmons does not necessarily need a jumpshot to succeed, but rather better fitting players and improved efficiency on shots close to the hoop.

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