Aussies in Summer League: Simmons and Maker thoughts
Summer League has wrapped and our two Aussie top 10 picks really shone with Ben Simmons and Thon Maker named to the Las Vegas first and second teams respectively.
Here are a few thoughts on each player for the NBA season after watching their play.
His skills, athleticism and motor will get him on the court this season
Maker showed he has a rare combination of height and skill mixed with an Energizer Bunny motor, all attributes that translate well to the NBA.
Although Maker only shot 37% from the field and 6-of-19 of his 3-pointers, his shooting stroke looks near perfect.
He went 1-of-8 on 3-point attempts for the first two games, then 5-of-11 over his final 3 games. The latter seemed more indicative of his sweet shooting action that also went 80% from the free throw line throughout Summer League.
An ability to stretch the floor, and simply opening up driving lanes for Giannis Antetoukoumpo and Jabari Parker may be the best quality he brings to the team early on.
The other is crashing the boards, which comes naturally when your motor always runs hot and you have elite length like Maker, who swooped on rebounds at the second highest rate in Vegas.
His lack of bulk and strength will remove him from the court
Maker thin frame with a lack of core strength mean he was bullied whenever he ventured into the paint, and rarely even tried to play there by the end of Summer League.
You can see in these two trips he tries to move his defender in the post, but he couldn’t budge them. Here he settles for a rushed fade-away jumper after the headbutt failed to clear space (well at least initially):
Over here, he is forced to step around his initial defender, making it easy for the help defender to block his shot:
This is no surprise to anyone, but there will be times when his shot isn't falling or an opponent goes at him in the post - times that will see him pulled from the court fast.
The Bucks have stated they are prepared to be patient and hope to get him to a playing weight of 235 pounds in a few years’ time. While he will never be big and strong, he could be wiry and strong like a Kevin Garnett or Marcus Camby.
Also: Maker didn’t record a single assist over Summer League. That's right, not one in five games playing 30 minutes on average. Getting buckets is fun, but the modern NBA is all about caring and sharing, so it's another aspect of his game he’ll need to work on.
He is much more advanced than most thought
Despite the weaknesses, Maker is miles ahead of where many thought he would be at this stage and looks every bit a steal by the Bucks.
Age controversy aside (although I find the old passport evidence the most compelling) nobody expected a player of his height with a complete lack of professional or college experience to play this well over Summer League.
When compared with other young bigs taken before him in the draft such as Dragan Bender (the no.4 selection), Marquese Chriss (no.8) and Jokob Poetl (no.9), Maker outplayed them all.
He already has a good understanding of where he should be in the court, often slipping to the basket as his defender went to help on the driver, allowing him to cash in on a number of easy dunks and put backs. He’ll have to wait a few years before he does any serious work inside but he looks comfortable playing on the perimeter for now.
He is going to be a point guard and soon
Simmons landed in the perfect location to maximise his talents, which is to say a team that will play him as a point guard.
When scanning the pointy end of the draft, each of the other teams in the vicinity already had a point guard in place, so it's unlikely they would have been as open to the idea.
The 76ers, on the other-hand, had a mish-mash of players who are mostly of the big variety and nobody of note holding down the position. They also have a progressive coach in Brett Brown and are still sitting at ground zero as a team.
Although Brown said the team will start Simmons as a power forward before moving him to the position, I don’t think they’ll hold out for too long. The Sixers lost their starting point guard Ish Smith during the off-season, replacing him with more of a undersized shooting guard in Jarryd Bayless and 30 year old Spaniard, Sergio Rodriguez.
With those options, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Simmons starting at point guard on opening night. It’s the position he looks most comfortable at, and honestly at times he looks a little lost when he heads into the paint.
The comparisons of Simmons as a jumbo-sized Jason Kidd seem to be on the money, especially due to his flashy passing, ability to grab a rebound and lead the fast break. It's easy to see Simmons having a similar highlight package to this one day.
Kidd averaged 11.7 points, 7.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds in his rookie season, winning Co-Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill. If you flip the assists and rebounds around, you might be around the mark for Simmons’ stats in year 1.
The shot needs a lot of work, A LOT!!!
I know - you know this.
But Simmons' shot is really bad and its going to be a major issue and talking point for him early in his career; he shot 32% on field goals in Summer League and 64% from the free throw line.
While Maker’s low shooting numbers appear to be more of a mental issue (i.e. nerves and adjusting to NBA quality players), with Simmons it looks physical. He has a classic lefty action, but brings the ball close to the middle of his forehead then uses way too much wrist in this writer's opinion.
This makes his jump shot erratic; on one possession he'll be swishing a J in the face of defender, then the next he's missing everything with little to no pressure.
He must have led the Summer League for air balls.
It’s going to take some time to fix, so hopefully the 76ers can get in a good shooting coach. They’ve already tried rebuilding Nerlens Noel’s shot before but there has been little to no improvement so far.
All he really needs is a consistent elbow jumper like Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook and he is set.
Simmons actually has a really nice touch around the basket, but he shoots from short distance almost exclusively with his right-hand. Maybe a Tristan Thompson style hand switch could be on the cards down the track if things aren’t improving.
He can expect a lot of unfair criticism in his career
He hasn’t played an NBA game yet, but Simmons is already under a zoomed-in microscope. Firstly, Charles Barkley questioned whether he likes basketball because he is not playing in the Olympics.
Then he had comedian Kevin Hart upset at him for not working out for the 76ers, despite this being quite the norm these days with top prospects. Nobody was throwing a tanty last year when Karl-Anthony Towns skipped working out for the Timberwolves until, like Simmons, he eventually did after it is assumed that he had been told he was their man.
Next came the criticism when he rested from a Summer League game, and the remark came from NBA legend Isiah Thomas no less. Simmons will likely be playing heavier minutes this season than every other rookie out there, so sitting the odd meaningless game in July probably isn’t the worst thing in the world.
To sum it all up, he can probably expect more than his fair share of critics for some time to come.