Ben Simmons is set to enter his 4th season and expectations are higher than ever.
This will be the first year of the 5-year $177 million contract extension that he signed and, at age 24, is entering the prime of his career. As a two-time all-star coming off of a season where he earned all-defensive first-team honors, Ben Simmons is not the type of player a franchise should be eager to give up.
While so much has been said about the lack of shooting, and there seems to be an increasing frustration with the lack of progression of late, Ben Simmons is still undoubtedly a top 25 NBA player whom just about every team would love to have. Thanks to a terrific offseason, Daryl Morey flipped the future of the franchise back in the right direction.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are now surrounded by floor spacers that should allow for their style of play to be maximized. Saying this is a make-or-break year for Ben Simmons is a major overstatement, however, given the new supporting cast, this would certainly be a year that it is important for him to take the next step in his career.
Points Per Game: 18.4
Throughout his career, Simmons has scored 15.8, 16.9, and 16.4 points per game in each respective season. While the infamous Embiid-Horford double post-up certainly made it difficult for Joel, this clogging in the lane may have hurt Ben even more. Despite the clogged lane that Ben was forced to work with last season, he still shot 77.4% of his shots from within 5 feet of the basket and 94.3% from 9 feet or less.
While the work he has put in with assistant coach Sam Cassell is impressive, and the 3-point attempt he took in the Pacers preseason game looked good enough, it still will be a longshot for Simmons to shoot jumpers on any sort of regular basis.
The quote by Doc Rivers saying, “I don’t care as much about Ben’s shooting as other people do… If he takes no shots I’m fine,” should all but cement this belief. While some improvement needs to be shown, I can’t see anything more than baby steps in the right direction.
This will continue to be frustrating and hold Simmons back from the potential MVP candidate that he could be, but any sign of growth in his willingness to shoot should be looked at as a major success.
Conversely, Simmons should be expected to have an increase in his overall scoring next year. The shooters that the Sixers have added will prevent defenses from sagging off into the paint as much and open the lane for Simmons’ impressive driving ability. Doc Rivers has also preached to increase the pace of play and this plays directly into Ben’s strengths so expect him to be a force on the fast-break on a regular basis this year.
Assists Per Game: 9.6
This is the area where the biggest uptick in numbers should occur. Throughout his career, Simmons has averaged 8.2, 7.7, and 8.0 assists per game. Last season, Ben led the league in assists on 3-pointers despite having sub-par shooters on the floor with him.
Seth Curry (career 44.3% from 3) and Danny Green (career 40% from 3) will make the biggest impact on this and Simmons driving and dishing ability will be put on full display this year. His usage in pick-and-roll should also increase Simmons’ assist totals as he will be a triple-double threat on a nightly basis once again.
Despite his brief shift to power forward in the bubble, Simmons seems back in line to quarterback the offense. No matter what position he ends up playing on paper, Simmons will serve as the primary ball-handler for most offensive sets.
Doc Rivers has used phrases like “playmaker” and “facilitator” when describing Ben’s role in the offense, and with Simmons being the best passer on the roster it should be accounted for this to be his main role.
Given that LeBron led the league in assists per game last season with 10.2, I felt it was too ambitious to push Simmons’ expectations in the double digits. That being said there will be multiple flashy and effective assists seen on a nightly basis and Simmons will flourish in the fast-paced style of play that Doc Rivers wants to run.
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