In the words of William Shakespeare (or pretty close)
Ben Simmons, to trade or not to trade, THAT is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous losses, or to take arms against a sea of ring chasers, and by opposing defeat them?
To watch The Process die: to sleep in continuous sports mediocrity;
Boy that Shakespeare guy really knew his basketball but even he clearly struggled with the Harden for Simmons thing. I'll admit its a tough call when a guy as all time great as James Harden is potentially on the table for your guy. Does it really make sense to potentially pass on sure fire HOF scoring machine to keep a young star with a huge hole in his game? This is going to require me to once again put on my tin foil hat and get to the bottom of this.
I've detailed Simmon's left vs right hand shooting issue to the extent and frequency of actually annoying some posters (hey it happens). Its probably still the single biggest question mark as to just how great a young player future the Sixers might be trading away.
Following the Simmons Shooting Saga
My tin hat analysis indicates with a complete lack of 100% assurance but still firm, that I should come down on the side of NO. Just NO to trading Ben Simmons for anyone whose name doesn't start with Luka. Not yet.
The reason is simple. He hasn't given up on shooting the ball. He himself intends to do so, he knows its an issue and he continues to work on it.
There is therefore at least hope for Ben Simmons's team that they may already have the next King James of the league under contract. Its mostly acknowledged that Ben with an outside shot, which will also translate to Ben with a good free throw %, is right there in the conversation for the best player in the NBA, every year and yes he's twenty-four years old.
The real problem however is mental.
The Psychology of Ben Simmons shooting problem
Ben Simmons shooting problem is not a simple case of an NBA player, a guard no less, who is a poor shooter or even a reluctant shooter. Ben's shooting problem is a real psychological blocking issue. Ben works out and video comes out every year with him draining practice jumpers and 3 pointers, always left handed :-( but draining them. He then goes further and hits them in scrimmage games only to enter the season and return to being the most reluctant shooter in NBA history.
The good news is Ben has acknowledged the mental block as a problem by the fact that he is seeing a professional sports psychologist.
Jackie MacMullan of ESPN
Simmons agreed to work with a sports psychologist, while Sixers personnel, friends and teammates have tried — and failed — to instill the necessary impudence to get him over the hump.
"I know it’s going to come," Simmons says. "It’s a matter of me being comfortable doing it. Some of that is getting the reps in. I can take a hook shot from the elbow, because I’ve done it so many times, I’m confident it will go in. It’s second nature.
"With 3s, it’s never been like that. I’ve got to make it a point of emphasis. I could be one of those guys shooting 30% right now. But I’d rather be one of those guys shooting 40%."
"Some people put so much emphasis on it," Simmons says. "It’s a little too much. It made me back check and say, ‘Let me focus on what I’m good at.’ There are things I do on the court where nobody can stop me, when I’m putting up steals, assists, scoring in the paint."
The Right Hand Mental Block
This is the part where I have to add the YET to the trade possibilities. Ben Simmons is the rarest of creatures in that he is an NBA Allstar level athlete that has achieved that level of play while shooting outside jumpers and free throws with his non-dominant left hand.
Ben knows he's not a natural lefty and he also is clearly not a natural born ambidextrous athlete. I've covered all this in detail in previous posts here on LB the last few years which are linked above so I won't review it again. He knows it, but he thinks he's changed his natural hand now through years of using the left hand.
Simmons now absolutely refuses to consider switching to the right hand or by all indications refuses to even discuss it Other players including all time great shooter JJ Redick have personally talked to him about it suggesting the right hand stroke looks smoother and more natural.
This issue about the left hand shooting seems a much bigger mental block than even his reluctance to shoot in general. Most of the public and media just wants Simmons to take a few more perimeter shots, particularly the wide open shots, with the hope that he can help make defenses come out and guard him instead of making things harder for his teammates.
The mental stone wall and the lack of hope for a switch of shooting hands, even for free throws, should cause the Sixers to keep an open mind to the possibility that Simmons may never reach his full potential as a player.
Switching hands is not even a question that is raised to the player any more. It appears Ben and his camp has successfully shut down that question for any consideration which means there is no indication fans can take to believe that Simmons will ever shoot with his God-given dominant right hand.
Watching the rare video of Simmons using his right hand to shoot free throws, throw pitches and even toss in full court shots for nothing but net has to make many think this could be the fastest way for Ben the non-shooter to become Ben the good shooter.
Jalen Rose should be given credit for being one of the only voices in the major sports media to call out and identify this issue from the very outset of Ben's career.
The Block From Childhood
Riddle me this Batman, a guy has trained to play basketball from his childhood, literally all his life. He develops elite guard skills even though he grows into the body of a Power Forward.
He has elite skills in every area except for one little thing, he cannot shoot well or more accurately will not shoot from outside. He also develops a poor free throw percentage for a guard. All this despite the fact that he has clearly trained and worked at shooting consistently, had shooting trainers and even shot decently in high school.
Look, even the average guy would be a decent shooter if he practiced shooting as much as Ben Simmons has since childhood.
So how could it happen that an elite pro guard becomes the most reluctant shooter in NBA History?
Here's my answer, tin hat firmly in place. The issue is rooted all the way from Ben's childhood.
Ben clearly has great parents. His father and apparently his mother as well both strictly raised him to be a trained ambidextrous child and athlete.
Truly ambidextrous people only make up about 1 percent of the population. People who have no dominant hand, and can use both hands with equal skill, are about 1 in 100, though many people who are left-handed can use their non-dominant hand nearly as well as their dominant one.
... The rarest form of ambidexterity is when people can use both hands with strong skill, all the time.
Ben has acknowledged that he was not born ambi but right handed then trained to become ambi.
Therein lies the problem. Ben has trained his left handed shot to an amazing degree, but he is not nor ever will be a natural lefty. The result is a stroke that is incredible, just go out and try to shoot a perimeter shot with your offhand if you want to appreciate how well Ben has trained his left handed shot. Its quite an achievement really to shoot as well as he does with the offhand.
That said, the lefty Ben is never quite an instinctive confident shooter like a guy that has played basketball all his life.
As O’Connor mentioned, it’s not that Simmons is unaware of this bizarre predicament. He once told reporters he thought he was "supposed to be" right-handed but his father made him shoot and dribble with his left hand.
In a profile on the Australian-born star, Simmons even caught a flying bug using his right hand. During one team workout, he hit an incredible full-court shot with his right hand.
In fact, former NBA player Jalen Rose believes Simmons will eventually switch away from being a lefty.
So how does this produce the mental block? Notice, his father made him use the left to shoot. Its enforced from his childhood training. His mother also evidently re-enforced the training, all no doubt with the best of intentions and indeed it all helped make him an elite basketball player.
Ben Simmons’s mother taught him proper manners. "I eat with my left hand. Knife in my right," he says. "My mom would kill me if I had the fork in my right hand."
Again Ben has awesome parents that raised him to be what he is. From what I've read his father doesn't think he needs to change either and Dad is also not only a great father but was also quite a good pro, so why would Ben think he should make a major change like his shooting hand given all his success in his basketball career? He needs to complete his mission as a player and do it the way his Dad trained him to.
So is it any wonder this is a psychological thing? Its just the way it is now, all the way back to his childhood training. You do certain things with right and you do other things with the left, period, end of story.
Ben has to shoot and shoot well but he also must do it with his left hand or his Dad may be disappointed with him or even worse his mom may kill him! :-)
"That’s just the way I played growing up," he says. "Just the way I play the game."
Reasons NOT to trade him. Yet.
So now we can see the source of the mental block. The right hand is blocked out for outside shooting and for free throws. Ben is also a player that strives to be super efficient always choosing to make the best play for his team. The fact that he has a wide open perimeter shot might look like the best shot to everyone else but the point is he must do it with the left hand and the fact is he's still working to make that left hand as good and efficient as he wants it to be.
Clearly he hasn't felt that lefty shot has gotten there yet but he's working on it. In the meantime, why does that mean the Sixers shouldn't trade him?
1) He's 24 and really, really good. Allstar, All NBA defense, still double digit scoring good.
2) He's locked in to a 5 year contract and all of them in prime years.
3) His trade value is likely to be higher later. Health permitting, its reasonable to expect Simmons to be worth more by waiting, not less. He's not coming off his best yet because he's coming back from injury time.
4) He's going to see only his 2nd NBA coach. He learned from Brett and became a Rookie of the Year and NBA Allstar. So what might he learn from Doc?
5) He's seeing a sports psychologist so he acknowledges the lack of shooting, is a problem.
6) Joel Embiid has openly stated he would love to stay in Philly his entire career with Ben Simmons. Sure that would seem highly unusual in today's league but the fact that he's even stated it as a goal is something for Philly to consider. Its the Dirk does Dallas dream x 2 if two young stars actually want to stick with one city in the NBA.
7) Last but actually first, Simmons still just might start shooting, even soon, with his well trained left hand. Yes he hasn't but it still seems that he might just start breaking out some perimeter shots soon.
What are the Odds?
Yes he's said it before. He's put up shooting vids and said he intended to break out a jumper only to go right back to the same mental block but just listening to his own comments he might just get over the hump soon.
Looking at what he works on and his willingness to work with the sports psychologist, I think the odds are better than 50/50 we're going to see a shooting Simmons at some level over the course of his contract. Maybe this year. He won't be James Harden, that's for sure, not using his left hand, but he could be an improved Ben-Already-Allstar-Simmons and that's an increased tradeable asset of a player.
I can't lay favorable odds on the real issue getting resolved which is shooting with the dominant hand but I would say the odds are good, given his age and his efforts, for him to at least start shooting more often with his left hand. I don't think it will be great. I think the left is always going to be un-instinctive, robotic, less reliable but that left jay will still represent an improvement, even if he shoots averag-ish.
I base this in part on the fact that Simmons did shoot almost 30% from 3 for a season using his left hand in high school on 51 attempts and 68% from the free throw line. That means Ben Simmons developed this general mental shooting block sometime during college and carried it into the NBA.
So, that Ben Simmons had at least a somewhat normal left handed shot as recent as high school.
So what happened?
From "Why won’t Ben Simmons shoot?"
Ben Simmons is a two-time All-Star, has helped lead his team to back-to-back 50-win seasons and is a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. All this, and the Australia native hasn’t even reached his 24th birthday.
Still, the burning question on everyone’s mind is, "Why won’t Ben Simmons shoot?"
The overriding theme seemed to be that Simmons can shoot, but just simply isn’t comfortable doing so. It’s come to a point where Simmons agreed to work with a sports psychologist, according to MacMullan.
The point to notice there is
1) Simmons CAN shoot, we can see evidence of that also from practice and
2) He has worked with a sports psychologist to get past the mental reluctance.
Coaching Mental Block, the Doc Rivers Approach
Given the intractable psychology behind Simmons shooting problem, Doc Rivers may be showing his genius by avoiding the trap which Brett Brown fell victim to. Brown tried to demand at least a few shots a game from Simmons, but his effort to publicly call him out on this failed miserably.
Some fans didn't like hearing that Rivers was coming in saying he absolutely was not going to push Ben Simmons to shoot the ball. When you understand that a psychological issue can be just as difficult as a physical one, Doc's approach makes all the sense in the world.
With the 2020-2021 season just about to start its too early to know if Doc's approach will work any better to help Ben's shooting but one thing is for sure, it can't get any worse a result than Brett Brown's perfectly rational but failed attempts which included both talking about the ambidexterity issue and taking a disciplinarian approach to push him to shoot outside sometimes even if its left.
Here we see that Coach Brown did try to talk to him about the hand switching scenario even hinting that it is to some degree a curse that Ben insists on the dual handed split he has chosen.
Brett Brown on Ben Simmons shooting with either hand: "We talk freely about it. It’s a curse and a blessing." CC: @KevinOConnorNBA— Jawn Gonzalez (@JohnGonzalez) November 16, 2017
So when coach Brown clearly gave up on the hope that Ben might try switching hands, he decided to challenge him openly to go ahead and start shooting with his chosen lefty stroke, but just get some shots up.
Simmons basically openly defied Coach Brown's public declaration that he instructed the player to shoot at least a minimum number of times per game. This failed attempt to get Ben Simmons over the mental shooting block as much as anything might have been the beginning of the end for the Brett Brown Sixers era.
Coach even called it a failure.
Now enter Doc Rivers with the approach of just letting Ben be Ben. Let him figure it out himself. Give him the space and time at his own pace, even if its glacial. He's also made it clear that talk of trading Ben Simmons is not coming from the Sixers. Morey also has pretty much taken that off the table with his public remarks indicating that its the presence of Ben and Joel in their youth as stars that brought both Doc and himself to Philly.
As I see it, one of 3 things happens with Ben's shooting and player profile.
1) He doesn't change his shooting ways any time soon. He's still Allstar quality and the team and coaching staff around him offers new possibilities.
2) He starts shooting more often, with his left of course, and likely improves his FT% a bit along with the increased willingness to shoot.
3) The possibility exists that he gives the right hand switch a try. Even he did it for just free throws, the impact on his game and his team could be monumental.
If he does #1 his trade value is not going away. The option for a big trade offering an Allstar young player under long term contract remains for the Sixers.
If he does #2 the team is probably improved and moving into serious ring contention range.
If he does #3 the team has the next Lebron James, inhouse.
Doc Rivers is the new sheriff in town so you don't bail on Simmons without giving him a shot. Not quite YET.
BBALLBREAKDOWN has one of the best analysis I've ever seen explaining why Ben's issue shooting in games is actually about more than just repetitions.
He shows how Ben's footwork, shooting rhythm, jumping and release timing all affect his shot.
Watch his breakdown video and you see why his shooting in a game is different from standstill practice shots or even lightly defended pickup games. In the real games his footwork, timing and rhythm are natural for a righty shooter on the move, in the flow of game but all unnatural for a lefty.
He has to do more than repeat practice shooting strokes to make his left as good as his right could potentially be because his instincts and footwork and timing all fit a righty.
The analyst says he's tired of advocating for Ben to switch though because well, just like Brett Brown, JJ Redick, Jalen Rose or me, we understand that it's probably not even being being considered. It was rumored after one offseason after he pitched a beautiful pregame righty baseball strike that he was going to switch and he literally scorned the idea like it was a joke.