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Dr. Strangeshot or: How Ben Simmons Will Learn To Stop Worrying and Love The Jumper

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No stone was left unturned in my first official feature article for Liberty Ballers. I went deep down the rabbit-hole exploring if Ben Simmons should make the switch to shooting jumpers right-handed.

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Ben Simmons is many things: NBA rookie phenom, Australian enigma, quietly confident.

The first glimpse I got of his supreme talent was his “Official Senior Year Mixtape.” A year in which he averaged 28-12-4 and secured a third consecutive National Championship for Monteverde Academy.

As I marveled at this 6’10” Wunderkind, I noticed there was something curiously missing from his highlight reel — outside jumpers. As a connoisseur of high-school mixtapes, I know that even players who are considered non-shooters (see: Shabazz Muhammad) have highlight tapes full of step-backs, three-pointers, and buzzer-beaters.

Simmons was so advanced in other areas of the game in high-school, that the glaring omission of jump shots was not considered a red-flag. Boy did that quickly change by the time he made his first giant leap onto the campus of Louisiana State University.


College

After winning the High School National Championship and being named Gatorade Player of the Year, Simmons “took his talents” to LSU. What resulted was astonishing: LSU became a college basketball hellscape — where Simmons, a generational prospect, could not overcome the disastrous combination of their coaching staff and the smörgåsbord of uninspiring SEC recruits.

He actually made a three-pointer in his lone season at LSU. Finding the video felt like digging up the Zapruder film or the fabled video of Jordan Crawford dunking on LeBron at a Nike camp — a video that was later confiscated by Nike representatives.

The Ringer made a nifty graphic breaking down the distribution of his shots by handedness:

As you can see, Simmons’ opts to use his right hand for anything that’s not a jump shot or free-throw.

Note: This might seem glaringly obvious, but if you’re confused why dunks only add up to 50%, it’s because half of them were two-handed dunks.


Ambidex—what?

The logical conclusion goes as such: Ben Simmons’ is naturally inclined to do things right-handed, but his jumper (and dribbling) was forcibly switched to left-handed by his father.

His dad, a former professional basketball player, probably did not just make some brash mistake. Learning ambidexterity on the basketball court is an invaluable skill, and Simmons’ multi-handedness routinely keeps defenders off-balance, rarely knowing which way he is going.

Here Danny Green, a highly-touted wing defender, is left befuddled by Simmons’, who offers no clue into which direction he will drive or finish.


The Shot

This season Simmons has made 151 of his 266 free-throw attempts, for 56.8% — second worst percentage in the NBA (see: Dwight Howard).

Derek Bodner, a senior writer for The Athletic, wrote: “Regardless of Simmons being a natural righty, trying to retrain more than a decade of muscle memory is something you would almost never suggest. But the baseline of infrequency and ineffectiveness breathe life into the debate.”

NBA: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bodner later added: “And the footwork and balance, and getting someone to do that in game situations, off the dribble, and off muscle memory is the much (much) bigger consideration than arm motion and hand placement.”

Simmons has even been quoted saying: “I think I was supposed to be right-handed,” but “it’s all natural now.” According to that quote, here’s his idea of a natural pull-up jumper:

Here’s a “natural” fadeaway:

Simmons even posted a video on his Instagram this summer putting his three-point shooting on display:

Here are two videos showing Simmons’ shooting three-pointers in warm-ups/practice:


The Numbers

How much does Simmons have to lose by potentially switching to shooting jumpers right-handed?

According to NBA Savant, he has made 64 of the 198 jump shots he’s taken from beyond eight feet — a conversion rate of 32.3%. For reference, Giannis Antetokounmpo has made 153 of his 439 jump shots in that same period, only 34.9%.

Simmons can still be a dominant force without a jumper — how good can he be with one? His current True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is .549, a number that measures the efficiency of all shots, adjusting for the relative value of three pointers and free-throws.

The league average TS% is .557. This makes Antetokounmpo’s TS%, which hovers around .600, even more impressive — especially when you consider his poor jump-shooting efficiency. This lends credence to the idea that Simmons can still be a dominant player without spectacular jump-shooting numbers.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers
Don’t worry — I’ll show you how he made Fournier do this further down.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Simmons has been so efficient from inside-the-arc and so inefficient from the free-throw-line, that if he averaged two 3-point attempts per game, he would have to make over 35% of them just to maintain his current TS%.

Conversely, if his free-throw percentage was 75% instead of his current 56.8%, his TS% would be elevated to .575 – which is the same efficiency as the Toronto Raptors, one of the NBA’s top offenses.

Simmons is attempting 4.5 free throws per game, which seems like a great number for a rookie. According to Second Spectrum, Simmons has drove to the basket 930 times this season, the third highest count in the NBA — his drives are producing fewer trips to the line than one would expect.

I created a table illustrating just how ineffectual Simmons’ drives have been in terms of getting free-throws:

Dennis Smith...yikes!

The table above shows the Top-20 players in total number of drives. As you can see, Simmons has the third-most field goal attempts on drives in the NBA, but only the 12th-most free-throw attempts. This resulted in a composite ranking of negative 9, or last on the list. Dennis Smith Jr. is having a notably poor season driving to the rim, while Jimmy Butler deserves a ‘standing-O.’

I evaluated the statistics on drives to get a better understanding of this question:

Does Simmons avoid contact on drives to avoid shooting free throws?

Yes, this is just one game against the Brooklyn Nets, but I would not say Simmons is shying away from contact. He’s simply a man-on-a-mission when attacking the rim. Simmons does opt for the occasional floater — but when I combed through the film — I found he was shooting less than one of these per game.

He also has unveiled a nasty Euro-Step, and as promised, I will show how he eviscerated Evan “Never Google” Fournier.


Make the Switch?

You would think that switching shooting hands would be an unprecedented endeavor within professional basketball — but that is not the case.

In 2013, Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson made the switch from shooting free-throws left-handed to right-handed. This happened just two seasons into his NBA career, where he had just converted on just over 58% of his attempts from the stripe.

In his third season, Thompson shot up to 69.3% on a career-high number of attempts, eclipsing 60% for the three seasons until his career-worst percentage last season (49.8%).

Thompson has claimed that he’s “almost perfectly multi-handed,” if not “purely ambidextrous.”

The striking similarities to Simmons’ do not stop there, check out this old clip from Thompson:

So Thompson claims he throws a football righty and boxes lefty. Well, check this out:

How could anyone throw a basketball with that much force and precision with their off-hand? Since Thompson also mentioned boxing lefty:

Many people will not find the Thompson comparison valuable — considering he almost never attempts a normal jumper.

Former UNC guard Nate Britt made the switch from shooting left-handed jumpers to right-handed after his freshman year. Oddly enough, Britt continued to shoot his free-throws lefty.

Britt went from only 12 three-point attempts in his freshman year to 71 in his sophomore season, increasing his percentage from 25% to 36.6%, while playing less minutes! This sample size is too small to deduce cause-and-effect, but Britt continued to shoot threes at a higher efficiency the rest of his college career.

The Nail In The Coffin

I will let the video speak for itself:

Actually, I’ll speak on it — his righty free-throw form is objectively better than his left.

According to basketball shooting instructor, Collin Castellaw, who created Shot Mechanics, these are four issues with Simmons current shot:

  1. His pit angle is greater than 90 degrees (Correct: Perpendicular to the ground).
  2. He reaches his set point too early (Correct: As Toes leave ground/legs lock out -- transfer momentum into release).
  3. His set point is too high (Correct: Directly over eyebrows).
  4. He doesn’t lockout his arm completely on his release (Correct: Fully extended shooting arm on release, not slightly bent at elbow or loose wrist).

All of these factors contribute to a lack of fluidity & consistency in Simmons’ shot. When we watch the video of him shooting right-handed, many of these issues magically vanish.

Perhaps it’s not so crazy to suggest that a player who’s better at passing, full-court shots, finishing at-the-rim, and signing contracts with his right hand, might actually be better shooting jump shots with that same hand.

Fan Mail: Esidewater@Bballbreakdown.com