The sky is falling. The Process is a distant memory. You’re frustrated. We hear you. But here’s a break from the big picture front office, coaching, and rotation problems this team is having. This one will be about Ben Simmons’ development as a finisher. Because amidst the disappointing chaos of this season, there have been signs of true progress in their young 23 year old two time All-Star. Sometimes that can get lost when the team struggles on the road, and the chatter is only about his jump shot or his fit with Joel Embiid. Now even though this team’s roster construction isn’t a great compliment for his unique skills, Simmons is having his best season. He is not the problem in Philadelphia.
Unleash the Beast
Simmons is currently averaging 16.7 points, 8.2 dimes, 7.8 boards, and a league leading 2.1 steals per contest with a true shooting percentage of 60.7 and the highest free throw rate of his young career at .464. He has knocked down 54 of his last 70 free throws, a 77% rate that has his FT% for the season almost at 63 percent!
On top of all that he’s made a quiet campaign for himself to land one of the 5 spots on the NBA All Defensive Team and stepped up his vocal leadership skills. He’s been a dynamic force on both ends of the floor, period.
The part that has been the most exciting of all for some fans has been that free throw percentage, which has appeared to invigorate him to become a foul-drawing machine:
After going 11-of-13 tonight, Ben Simmons is now 41-of-52 (78.8%) from the free-throw line over his past five games.— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) January 31, 2020
He has never attempted more free throws than this over a five-game stretch before.
This is a *huge* development if it holds. https://t.co/mb4f2AjA2I
Simmons’ 11.8 driving attempts per game ranks 34th in the league. That rank has room to grow because recently Ben has put more pressure on defenses and drawn fouls in new ways. He has averaged 10 free throw attempts per game over the team’s last 7 games. Here’s a look at how he’s done it. Unrelenting pressure:
This progress is a great sign because it’s stuff Brett Brown has urged Simmons to address in the past. Here was what his Head Coach had to say, per Ky Carlin of SixersWire, following a December 1st loss to the Hawks:
“You know how I have been on since we have brought him into the program, his finishing is always on my mind. We’re not talking about dunks, it’s that little three foot thing that we’re talking about and he has to get better at it, that gather step where he’s going one extra step or he’s going one extra dribble and not being bumped off his driving line and more fading and more straight line through people, Giannis-like, I thought he was really good doing that tonight. The seven free throws that he shot and he made them all, he looked confident doing that. I think there is progressive growth in that area of going body-body ball and inviting that physical style to get way more free throws.”
What Brown means by taking that extra step and that extra dribble and not getting bumped into a fade has been the key and you saw it in the clip above.
Came a long way
Sixer fans have seen Simmons’ weaknesses manifest themselves in big playoff moments where Ben fades from relevance and gives broadcasters reason to harp on how he doesn’t jack more 17 footers (thinking of you on last night’s NBATV Broadcast, Greg Anthony). But the weaknesses have not all been shot related.
Some examples 1) Simmons has struggled to initiate contact and draw fouls 2) he has a tendency to leave his feet too early sometimes 3) relatedly, he can pick up his dribble a bit early, sometimes harmlessly, letting smaller defenders off the hook 4) he occasionally plays very upright, without getting low and explosive, and 5) he can cost himself buckets by not slowing down as he nears the rim.
Much of the video we watched above was improvement on all of these issues that have caused him problems in the past. Of course, they can still happen. Last night, down in Miami, jumping too early and not slowing down:
I pulled some models for Ben. Guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Pascal Siakam are all very comfortable taking that extra step, that extra dribble in the paint, that extra spin to absorb contact and methodically process the situation. Ben has even more room to grow as he navigates defenders in cramped spaces and becomes stronger physically.
We’ve definitely seen progress lately. I’ll leave you with a few clips of more tricks for Ben to model: