Ben Simmons. A name in Philadelphia sports that generates more controversy than what you see at your average political debate. But what could one expect? After all, the 76ers committed a #1 overall pick and $180 million dollars to a guy who more or less can’t shoot a basketball.
Following an offseason of Instagram highlights showing off his new-look jumper, Simmons has still yet to attempt a regular-season NBA three. After an abysmal six-point performance in a loss to the Suns, the “trade Ben” critics are up and thriving. You can’t go more than 30 seconds on Twitter or Facebook without seeing a hypothetical trade package for the young point guard.
With top Philly media members also pushing the “trade Simmons because he can’t shoot threes” agenda, it makes sense why Simmons’s lack of a jumper is universally perceived as his biggest flaw. However, it’s actually not his greatest weakness. In fact, it’s almost a non-factor when discussing the potential for a 76ers championship.
Effective field goal percentage or “eFG%” is a statistic that basketballreference.com uses to measure a player’s total shooting ability. It takes into account that a “3-point field goal is worth one more than a 2-point field goal”. Whether you buy into the whole use of analytics or not, it’s one of the best formulas we have for measuring a player’s efficiency when shooting the basketball.
Believe it or not, Simmons ranks 26th all-time on the NBA eFG% list with a score of .551. That ranks him as a more efficient shooter than guys like Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, and even Kevin Durant. The only point guards ahead of Simmons on this list? Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr, and Steve Nash.
Now full disclosure this type of analytic obviously favors guys who stand around the paint and dunk a lot. Dunks are simply a higher percentage shot than threes. The argument is not that Simmons is a better scorer than Durant or Leonard, he’s not. However, Simmons is really, really good at what he does. Historically good in fact. Telling Simmons to abandon his game to start jacking up threes left and right would be like telling Patriots’ QB Tom Brady to start scrambling every play.
*DISCLAIMER: The current minimum games requirement for the all-time eFG% leaderboard is 400 games. These rankings are being discussed as if Simmons has played 400 games.*
So What’s the Problem?
Simmons certainly has his shortcomings. That performance against the Suns last week was embarrassing, and his playoff scoring numbers took a noticeable hit last year. So if it’s not threes, then what’s the problem?
Free throws. Simmons simply doesn’t get to the line enough, and when he does, he doesn’t make them consistently.
Since entering the league Simmons has shown a distinct fear of getting to the line. He’ll shy away from contact in the post, pass up slightly contested drives, and almost exclusively avoid FT type scenarios in the fourth quarter.
When one thinks of Ben Simmons, a specific player comes to my mind when discussing current day comparisons: 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both are two of the most athletically gifted players in NBA history, both are apart of playoff-caliber teams, and both aren’t very good shooters.
Giannis is a career 27.7% career three-point shooter. He once saw his 3P% dip as low as 15.9% back in 2015. For the most part, he’s a complete non-threat from the perimeter.
So how is he so absurdly dominant? Free throws. Giannis has averaged just over eight free throw attempts a game over the last three seasons. In 2019 he’s seen his FTA number rise as high as eleven.
Giannis shoots around 75% from the line which essentially guarantees him a free 6-8 points a game. Simmons, on the other hand, shoots 58% from the line on just a measly 4.8 attempts a game.
Simmons is just as athletically gifted as Giannis and honestly more offensively skilled than Giannis with the ball in his hands. There are zero reasons why Ben can’t put up similar stat-lines to him with the addition of a dependable free throw.
Right now Simmons is limiting himself offensively. His strongest asset is his ability to drive to the basket and go through contact. He’s so physically dominant he could probably draw a foul 10-15 times a game if he truly wanted to.
It’s fun and trendy to make fun of his jumper, but it’s simply not his biggest issue right now. Ben needs to get in the gym and perfect his free throw form. If he can do that, he will be right up there in the MVP voting at the years’ end.
Please feel free to tweet me at @phillyinsider99 and share your opinion on the Ben Simmons debate, I’d love to hear it.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports