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Ben Simmons’ free throw percentage is high enough to welcome contact

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Recognizing the foul line as a positive could elevate Ben Simmons to the next level this season.

Guangzhou Long Lions v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

0.94

That’s how many points per possession Ben Simmons scored in transition last season. This number is remarkably low, especially given Simmons’ reputation as a guy who is able to start the break. In transition, Simmons got to the foul line just 15.8 percent of the time, while he turned the ball over 23.6 percent of the time. These numbers are linked to each other. Far too often, like in the video below, Simmons forces a bad pass instead of going through contact.

Simmons’ awful efficiency in transition doesn’t even account for how many points are scored by other teams as a result of his high turnover percentage.

1.05

That’s how many points per possession Jonathon Simmons scored in transition last season. He got to the line 23.3 percent of the time and turned it over just 9.3 percent of the time. Jonathon Simmons is bad, but he was still far more efficient than the Sixers’ other Simmons in transition.

1.07

That’s how many points per possession the Philadelphia 76ers scored as a team in transition last season. This ranked tied for 22nd in the league. They ranked ninth in frequency of possessions in transition.

1.12

That’s how many points per possession the Sixers scored on all offensive possessions last season. They were one of 13 teams to have higher efficiency on all possessions than on transition possessions. If you subtract points per offensive possession from points per transition possession for every team, the Sixers had the fifth-most negative difference.

1.14

That's how many points per possession Giannis Antetokounmpo scored in transition last season. He got to the foul line 28.6 percent of the time, and he turned the ball over 16.9 percent of the time.

1.15

That’s how many points per possession the Golden State Warriors scored on all offensive possessions last season. This mark led the league.

1.17

That’s how many points per possession the Cleveland Cavaliers allowed on all defensive possessions last season. This mark was the worst in the league.

1.20

That’s how many points per possession Ben Simmons, a 60 percent free throw shooter, scored on an average trip to the line for two shots last season. I constantly hear people say Simmons may become more willing to embrace contact if he improves his free throw percentage and becomes more confident at the line. This may be true. This may not be true. I have no idea what’s going on inside Ben Simmons’ brain.

What I do know is that Simmons already shoots well enough from the line to start making more of an effort to get there. Even at such a low percentage, a Ben Simmons trip to the foul line is more efficient than the most efficient offense and worst defense on an average possession from last season. And that doesn’t even account for getting players in foul trouble and getting other teams in the penalty, creating more free throws for Joel Embiid.

It’s not that Simmons never draws contact, it’s that he doesn’t do it often enough, and more specifically, he too often goes out of his way to avoid it. This issue compounds itself because when Simmons avoids contact, he usually does it in favor of a poor shot.

Numerically, Simmons shot 67.0 percent from the restricted area (1.34 points per possession) and just 39.9 percent from the non-restricted area of the paint (0.80 points per possession) last season. In action, that tends to look a lot like this:

Simmons isn’t going to be the bruiser and tough finisher that Giannis is. No one is asking him to become that player. He doesn’t even necessarily need to seek out contact to make a leap. But if he would just stop going out of his way to avoid it, he could cut down on transition mistakes and inefficient shots and start getting to the line more.

Is this a realistic hope for Simmons this year? I would say yes.

Despite his bad habit of shying away from contact, Simmons has given us plenty of examples of plays where he receives contact and finishes through it. In the clip below, he keeps his dribble and goes right at Marvin Williams.

By going strong to the basket, Simmons gets into the restricted area, where he shoots a much higher percentage. He doesn’t get fouled on the play, but he’s able to finish over the defender on a shot he’s clearly more comfortable taking. For most guys, it’s not that simple, but Simmons has the talent to get shots he’s good at more often than he did last season. He’s one of the few players in the league that has enough ability to make “stop messing around and just go try to dunk the ball” a valid critique.

With a new year about to begin, we can only hope Ben Simmons’ increased confidence in his jumper will lead to increased confidence in going to the line. Even if his free throw percentage doesn’t actually improve, being more content to take them could elevate Simmons from All-Star to All-NBA this season.