Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin are vastly different styles of players. However, Griffin may have been exactly the preparation for what it takes to get the most out of the Sixers’ current 24-year old star. Under Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin developed from the high-flying dunker to the well-balanced player that is seen today. Simmons’ ceiling is vastly higher than Blake Griffin’s but the style that Rivers used could produce impressive results.
Early Blake Griffin Days
Griffin’s tape at Oklahoma is much more similar to Simmons’ style of play than one might expect. Blake still did most of his damage in the post, but routinely carried the ball coast-to-coast and was a major factor in the transition game.
As his scouting report stated, “Runs the floor well. Excellent speed and agility in the open floor… Very comfortable handling the ball for a post player who can dribble the ball up the floor, in order to break the press and get through traffic… An excellent passer who has good vision and spots double teams quickly finding the unguarded teammate for open shots.” While Blake Griffin showed some flashes of a mid-range game, shooting was still considered the main weakness in his transition into the league.
Like Simmons, Griffin was the first overall pick in the draft as he was taken by the Clippers. He spent his first 3 seasons under head coach Vinny Del Negro before Doc Rivers took the reigns. In his first 3 seasons, Griffin rarely shot the ball from outside the paint. He attempted a total of 68 three-pointers and even shot just 60.7% from the free-throw line. Griffin scored 1.1% or less of his points behind the arc and no more than 16.9% of his points from the mid-range in each of the 3 seasons.
Ben Simmons Struggles
If Simmons had a 68 shot body of work from beyond the arc to work with there may be a different tune to this article, but Ben has still been unwilling to shoot jump shots on a regular basis. After his first 3 seasons in the NBA, Ben has attempted just 24 three-pointers and has never scored more than 21.2% of his points from outside the paint.
Simmons has been very good in his first 3 years in the NBA. He is grown in many areas of his game, especially on the defensive end. However, he has shown no signs of an improved jump shot and it is no exaggeration to say he could enter the MVP conversation if this occurs.
Driving and dishing will always be the bread-and-butter of Ben’s game, but if he is able to knock down open jumpers it will open up the entire floor for this to be more successful. Forcing defenders to close out and preventing them from camping out in the paint will go a long way in solving the spacing issues and open up the lane for him to drive once again.
When Doc Rivers came into the Clippers he continued to build on the “Lob City” style of play led by Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and Blake Griffin. Doc recognized how dynamic Blake could be and altered the offense to show this. In addition to the lobs around the rim that he was known for, Doc found ways to get the ball into Griffin around the elbow and also put in place an array of dribble handoffs to create separation for the versatile big.
In his first year under Rivers, Griffin put up a career-high 24.1 points per game and saw an increase in the percent of his points coming from mid-range, behind the 3-point line, and at the free-throw stripe. Rivers found ways to get the ball into Griffin and forced him to shoot it if he was open. The following year Blake scored 28.5% of his points from the mid-range and the following year that number increased to 32%. With the altered offensive system and rebuilt shot by shooting coach Bob Thate, Griffin established himself as one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA before extending beyond the 3-point arc.
In the first half of the 2017-18 season (which was Griffin’s last year playing under Doc) Griffin scored an impressive 25.7% of his points beyond the 3-point arc. This is a far increase from the 1.1% of his points he recorded when he first came into the league. His career 3-point percentage has risen all the way to 33.3% and he is now considered to have one of the better jump shots from bigs across the league. While he has not played under Rivers for the past 2 and a half-seasons, Griffin would not have developed this area of the game without the emphasis that was put on it by Doc Rivers.
While Simmons has been the primary ball-handler for nearly all his career, the Sixers began to experiment with moving him off the ball this year in the bubble. Shake Milton was considered to be the team’s starting PG and Simmons often found himself receiving the ball in the high post. The Sixers continued to attempt to run the offense through Ben this way in a similar way to what was done with Griffin.
While it only resulted in a more clogged up paint on top of the significant spacing issues that already existed- I guess its the thought that counts. The injury Simmons picked up put a halt on this development but this is a great concept for Doc to continue to work with. If more of an emphasis is put on forcing Ben to shoot mid-range jumpers, it will begin extending his range in a way that should have been done since his entry into the league.
The days of Ben Simmons being a point guard are in no way over and he can still be looked at as the primary ball-handler even while putting this emphasis on increasing his shooting range. Doc Rivers has already preached how he doesn’t “get lost in what position guys play,” and moving Simmons around in a more versatile way could create mismatches for the team to exploit.
Ben Simmons has struggled to develop his shooting since his entry into the league, but Doc Rivers may be just the guy to cure this. There are certainly more similarities than differences when looking at Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin’s styles of play. Creating a similar gameplan for building up Ben’s range would have a major impact on the Sixers’ championship aspirations and the future of Ben’s career.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire
Lifelong Philly Sports fan and current college student at Alvernia University. Writes about Sixers and Phillies and Co-Host of Pick Swap Podcast
Twitter: @Sean_Barnard1 and @PickSwapPod