Offensive fouls make up 32 of Simmons’ 157 turnovers — that’s a shade above a fifth (20.4%) of his turnovers. Of all non-centers with at least 1,200 minutes played and at least 100 turnovers on the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player whose offensive fouls make up a higher percentage of his turnovers (29.2%) than Simmons.
Devin Booker: 19.5% (33/169)
Brandon Ingram: 18.9% (23/128)
James Harden: 17.7% (35/198)
Terry Rozier: 17.0% (19/112)
Spencer Dinwiddie: 16.4% (21/128)
Bradley Beal: 12.9% (16/124)
Luka Doncic: 12.6% (22/175)
DeMar DeRozan: 12.4% (14/113)
Donovan Mitchell: 11.1& (12/108)
LeBron James: 10.4% (18/173)
Russell Westbrook: 9.8% (17/173)
Zach LaVine: 9.7% (15/155)
Lonzo Ball: 9.3% (10/107)
Dennis Schroeder: 8.9% (11/123)
Trae Young: 7.0% (14/198)
Buddy Hield: 6.9% (8/118)
Bojan Bogdanovic: 6.8% (8/118)
Lou Williams: 5.4% (7/132)
Damian Lillard: 4.8% (6/126)
Ja Morant: 4.5% (6/132)
Devonte’ Graham: 4.4% (6/137)
Jrue Holiday: 3.5% (4/114)
Darius Garland: 3.3% (4/123)
Ricky Rubio: 2.9% (3/102)
Historically, bigger players draw fouls more frequently than smaller players, with of course some exceptions. Smaller guards have developed finesse and dribble moves to score among the trees, while point-forwards and larger wings embrace contact. But embracing contact for players like Ben Simmons, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and even the 6’5” James Harden can sometimes lead to them lowering their shoulder into the chest of a defender, sending the defender into a cluster of photographers sitting pretzel style along the baseline.
By my count, Simmons has 21 offensive fouls that were either deemed a charge or a push-off — many coming after some of the league’s most moving thespian performances. But that’s part of the problem, defensive opponents are getting calls on Simmons because it looks like a foul, even if it’s not. That doesn’t mean being called for charges in unavoidable though.
One way Simmons could reduce his turnovers would be to develop a go-to scoring move on the drive. We rarely see Simmons bust out a spin move as part of his two dribble-free steps before shooting, he’s not compact enough for that. But we have seen Simmons occasionally euro-step his way to the bucket. In the play below, Simmons read-and-reacts brilliantly to an attempt to draw a charge from his former teammate Ersan Ilyasova:
Ben loves to make a dribble cut in the open court. That combined with a well-executed euro-step routinely freezes defenders in their tracks. If Simmons can develop that euro-step to the point where he’s comfortable going left or right on a dime, he’ll have a reliable alternative to bulldozing his way to the rim, which often results in charges and thus turnovers. (It’ll also help with the 2nd section of this article.)
Another chunk of offensive fouls (maybe 8-10) come when Ben is setting a screen, like after flipping perimeter hand off to a guard like Josh Richardson. Ben’s timing is a bit off, his shoulders often beating his feet to the screen. Gotta cut that out.
Over half of Ben’s turnovers are labeled “bad pass” turnovers — 86 to be exact. These break into two categories: passes that went out of bounds(/to a dead ball), of which Ben has 24, and passes that resulted in a steal for the opposition, of which Ben has 62.
Let’s start with the 24 passes that went out of bounds. A few of these were less the fault of Simmons and more the fault of a teammate. For example, one turnover Simmons is credited with was during a play in which Ben passed to where he expected Tobias Harris to be, because it would have given Tobias an open 3PT shot. But just as Ben was releasing his pass, Tobias cut to the hoop. However, the large majority of Simmons’ “bad pass, out of bounds” turnovers come from Simmons trying to do a bit too much as a passer, like kick out through very narrow windows.
So should Simmons give up on trying to execute these awe-inspiring passes? No, he artfully executes many of them. It’s sort of like the pitcher’s mentality in baseball: if you’re going to miss, miss low, not high. For Ben, if he’s going to commit a bad pass turnover, well at least in scenarios in which the ball ends up out of bounds, the Sixers have time to get set defensively. While Ben’s not consciously thinking “well this might be a bad pass but it won’t be too bad” before letting go, the point is, Sixers fans should accept the collateral damage given the trade offs.
It’s the 62 bad passes leading to steals that really hurt Simmons and the Sixers — not when Simmons is trying too hard, but instead taking things for granted — because they lead to transition buckets for the other team. So many of these passes occur when Simmons is looking to work inside-out, like drive-and-kicks or passing out of the post.
Ben can stare down his target from the low block before trying to slip a laser-like shallow pass over 3 defenders, without realizing that at that point, the defenders just need to stick a hand in the only available passing lane and hope for the best like Smalls. (I also think Simmons overrates his passing just a bit: you can be the most accurate passer on the planet but sometimes there’s too many bodies around and the window is simply too small for the ball.) Drives can get Simmons into tough situations, attacking the rim without a plan and opting for ill-advised kick out attempts.
Simmons has had the ball straight up stolen from his possession 17 times. These have been a mix: ball poked away while he had his back to the basket, swiped from him while trying to dribble by a defender, stripped just before going up for a shot.
Simmons has been whistled for traveling 10 times this season. I don’t think that’s an insignificant amount, but the scenarios in which Ben has traveled are varied and broken down further, seem mostly insignificant. For example, about half could be chalked up to spacing issues (Ben driving and a teammate gets right in his way, Ben driving and looking to pass to a teammate around the rim but two teammates drift into the same small corner along with their defenders, etc.). The other half are tedious, like shifting his foot slightly before dribbling.
One-offs... or two- or three-
Ben Simmons has a handful of turnovers that we can safely assume do not reveal flaws in his makeup as a player. These turnovers have occurred maybe one, twice, no more than three times this season.
Basket interference: 3
Ben Simmons has been called for offensive goaltending 3 times this season.
Lost ball - Out of bounds (OOB): 3
Anyone who has played pickup basketball at any point in their life has likely dribbled the ball of their foot or lost the ball as they went up for a layup. Those sorts of turnovers, where the player loses the ball out of bounds by their own doing, account for 3 of Ben’s turnovers.
Lost Ball - Stolen: 2
These are similar turnovers to “Lost Ball - OOB” except rather than the ball rolling out of bounds, an opponent scoops the lose ball up, creating an opportunity for a fastbreak.
Stepped out: 2
Simmons has stepped out of bounds while in possession of the ball twice.
Backcourt violation: 1
Lane violation: 1
- Ben Simmons has 157 turnovers through 45 games in 2019-20. 86 of these turnovers occur when Simmons is attempting to complete a pass.
- Simmons’ role and his volume of and skill for passing, compounded by Brett Brown’s philosophic approach to coaching offense, naturally contribute to a higher turnover total. Some positive characteristics have negative byproducts, utility is the deciding factor.
- I think it’s a realistic ask for him to eliminate 10-20 offensive fouls if the same sample was run back, eliminating 10-20 turnovers. He can do so by developing a short list of scoring moves around the rim, rather than literally charging through defenders.
- While Ben’s intentions have been compromised by spacing issues, it wouldn’t hurt if he developed a greater tendency for keeping his dribble alive. This would help limit traveling, obviously.
- I view Simmons as a more secure ball handler than his numbers indicate.
I charted all the above turnover stats using game film and NBA.com Stats. Krishna Narsu (@knarsu3) pointed me toward pbpstats.com, which was hugely helpful in verifying my numbers. Mine differ in very small ways, personal preference.