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How To Make Ben Simmons An Offensive Star

Taking a deep-dive on potential tactics that take advantage of Simmons’ strengths and mask his weaknesses.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Ben Simmons should be abused as ball & off-ball screener for Jimmy Butler. As Simmons says, on the dribble handoff, if the defense sags off him, it gets Butler wide open (with a good screen) for an easy jumper or layup/dunk. If the defense plays Simmons tight, he can roll to the rim for the easy lob.

Ben Simmons was one of the best 21-year old players in NBA history when he faced Boston in the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Then Brad Stevens allegedly laid out “the blueprint” on defending Simmons. These are his stats for the series:

14/8/6 on 47.5% are not terrible counting stats — but his turnovers, effect on court spacing, and passivity in transition spelled disaster for the Sixers offense.

During their four regular season contests, Ben Simmons played 140 minutes vs. Boston, the most of any Sixers player.

Over those minutes, he was -12.7, compared to the team at -5.8 vs. the Celtics. Over the season, that totals out to -37 points in 140 minutes. Yikes!

Basically they went from the Atlanta Hawks without him on the court, to the team that plays AGAINST the Globetrotters with him on the court — that’s 140 minutes of Washington Generals play.

So how did Stevens do it?

Brad Stevens is the Bill Belichick of the NBA — a master of situation basketball with tremendous defensive acumen.

Like Belichick, Stevens took away the primary option of the opponent's offense — transition. For the entirety of Simmons’ career, transition offense will probably be his greatest strength.

The issue is that the Sixers didn’t seem to have a miracle cure come opening night.

Look at Simmons get stymied in transition:

Then you have Horford pick up Simmons in semi-transition and he can double down on anything in the paint — Embiid has no chance:

Then you have the 6-10, 240 lb Simmons backing down the 6-2, 195 lb Kyrie Irving with little history of post-defense abilities.

Rather than making a strong move to the basket, he opts to throw an (inaccurate) swing pass to Embiid on the wing for three, which Brown easily switches over to cover:

Simmons should’ve made the decision to switch to right-handed shooting in the off-season. Now the onus is on Brett Brown to force him to shoot.

Simmons effectively set back his development 8 months, presumably due to stubbornness. I mean, he used his brother as a shooting coach this summer.

Fun fact, his brother, Liam Tribe-Simmons was a bad shooter himself in college, connecting on just 28% of his 3s and 63% from the charity stripe.

Simmons disclosed that some of his brother’s coaching included tweaks to how he holds the ball and getting under his shot.

We’ll see how well he accomplished that.

Becoming A Decent Shooter Is Not That Difficult

As an organization, the Sixers’ treatment of shooting as needs to be called out.

  • John Townsend, the “shooting coach,” has archaic methods and is not getting the job done.
  • Embiid infamously taught himself watching videos of “white guys” technique on YouTube
  • Simmons literally refused to shoot 3s this season & used family member as shooting coach
  • Brett Brown/Billy Lange are not seemingly not involved in working with players’ shot mechanics
  • Fultz worked with Hanlen who was not able to fix him despite 100,000 reps
  • JJ, Belinelli, Ilyasova, & even Shamet were self-made shooters, Sixers can’t take credit developing.

I mean, this video is from May 2018:

Then you have this gem five months later:

Obviously the intense planning and candid conversations accomplished almost nothing.

“So wise guy, what do you do?”

First I’d install a NOAHlytics Machine at the practice facility. Basically this measures the arc, shot depth, and left/right pattern of every shot. It charts it over time to understand overall trends, but also helps the shooters understand on a shot-by-shot basis what they need to fix.

For example, the ideal entry angle for a Simmons’ free-throw is around 45° — if he shoots one too flat at 38°, the screen will show him and he can make the correction. Feedback beyond the binary result of make/miss is vital to improvement.

Obviously just one player is not proof, but look at Anthony Tolliver’s improvement using the system, the red line indicating when he started using the system:

Tolliver: “I literally used it one time and I could tell the difference in my thought processes as far as what I need to do to make sure I make the next shot.”

Not to sound too much like a testimonial, but Tolliver said it changes his whole perception about a shot: When I [shot], it used to be, ‘Oh, I”ll make the next one.’ I just analyze it a lot differently now. I have even more control over my shot.”

Remember, the basket becomes MUCH larger when you shoot with proper arc. To accomplish this, the elbow must continue rising during shot. Simmons’ elbow stays distinctively flat throughout the motion:

It’s evident the entire force of his shot comes from his forearm, which he uses as a catapult to sling the ball at the rim:

This is not the imagery you want to conjure up when watching a jumper. Of course it is cherry-picking, but look at this diagram I made showing Steph Curry’s elbow through the shot:

Juxtapose that with Simmons:

  1. His left elbow being flared out causes a crossbow effect, imparting sidespin on the ball like Joakim Noah or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, probably not players you want to emulate.
  2. His lower body mechanics are terrible or that of a right-handed player.

The best shooters have a synergy between their upper & lower body that allows them to transfer force up into the shot, but Simmons does not possess this trait.

“Why does Ben Simmons fadeaway on almost every jumper?”

If you’ve ever played beer pong, you know people who use a catapult motion are terrible players — the ball comes in with way too much mustard and ricochets wildly away somewhere into the party.

On the contrary, there are some with a feathery motion where their elbow gently raises up as their wrist flops down, sinking the ball gently into the center of the cup.

Ben Simmons needs to become this pong player! As mentioned above, Simmons employs a forearm flick; this greatly reduces accuracy and precision.

“You haven’t answered...why does he fadeaway?”

This “forearm flick” causes too much of a longitudinal force, as opposed to the necessary vertical one. The ball is sent flying at the rim with excess sidespin, a shallow arc, and with excess velocity.

Simmons must fadeaway or he feels like he will send the ball spiraling off the backboard or rim.

Ben Simmons needs to think of the shot as an upwards motion with his release as a reflex of reaching the apex of his jump.

Right now, he actively propels the ball horizontally towards the basket with a directed forced from his arms — the force should be much more vertical and generated from the ground. He should be transferring the force generated from the ground into his release, which is a wrist flop.

As mentioned by several experts, internal mechanics dialogue such as “Keep your elbow straight, Ben!” are the enemy of long-term mastery.

Here’s a proper release:

Add Differential Training to Shooting Practice (from GM for a Day)

Ben Simmons does a ton of calibration training, AKA, shoot a bunch of practice free throws over and over. This is actually a good short-term technique. Calibration training is a solid technique to use, in say, a shootaround before a game.

On the other hand, differential training could involve:

  • Intentionally Hitting Front Or Back Rim
  • Intentionally Shooting With Too High An Arc (Above 50 degrees)
  • Intentionally Shooting Too Flat An Arc (Below 40 degrees)
  • Intentionally Hitting Left or Right Rim
  • Intentionally Banking In Shot

Recent literature from MIT Sloan says your target is 2 inches beyond the middle of the basket.

Simmons frequently drives to the left but almost finishes across his body with his right — this is a bad combination that leads to a bunch of low percentage shots. This is an egregious attempt to use the right-hand on a layup I’ve seen, from a players claiming to be lefty!

Hard to see but I watched in slow-mo, and he went with the right even though it was certain to get blocked.

Half Court

Despite what people are claiming about Jimmy Butler’s lack of marksmanship from outside, he undoubtedly helps the spacing as a ball-handler who can score from three-levels.

In crunch time, the Sixers produced two wide-open looks for Muscala that might’ve sealed the game. They accomplished this by Embiid screen-setting up top and Simmons playing the “Center” position on offense.

The possession directly after:

Then the possession after, Muscala was down low again, clogging the spacing. Embiid takes a behind-the-back, step-back deep two with 10 seconds on the shot clock:

The shot selection police would issue a life sentence for this offense. Embiid has said he’s watched James Harden to learn about how to draw fouls and it has worked to a great degree — he’s now shooting the most free throws in the NBA.

Well, he accidentally kept watching Harden’s isolation step-backs threes. Here is Harden brilliantly executing the move:

The Sixers should play Simmons in lineups with four capable shooters such as:

  • PG Shamet
  • SG Redick
  • SF Butler
  • PF Muscala
  • C Ben Simmons

You could use actions like the Bucks do with Giannis, generating threes whenever they want:

I made a chart depicting which teammates complement Simmons best, last season:

So after Embiid, clearly shooters were preferable.

This season, the super-shooting lineup has been effective for Simmons:

Even when you replace Simmons with Fultz they’ve had success:

This isn’t rocket science but worth exploring — Simmons gets better the more shooters you surround him with.

Affordable FA Targets To Pair With Simmons

  • Seth Curry
  • Justin Holiday
  • Rodney Hood
  • Wayne Ellington
  • Reggie Bullock
  • Ben McLemore
  • Brook Lopez

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