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Ben Simmons hit his first NBA 3, but how important is it really?
Remember the date - October 9th 2019.
It's the Philadelphia 76ers' first preseason game against the Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). In front of a packed house at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the 6'10 Australian pulled up as the clock winded down in the second quarter, and swished his first ever professional three-pointer.
The Philadelphia crowd roared and celebrated as if they had just won the championship. Simmons meanwhile, kept a stoic face as if he had done it a thousand times before.
It took Simmons 20 career attempts to make his first shot from behind the arc, with most of those previous attempts being heaves at the end of the shot clock or an expiring period. In his career so far, Simmons has been heavily criticized for his shooting, or rather lack thereof, with a staunch refusal to take outside shots in his first two NBA seasons. This still hasn’t stopped him from impacting the game via efficient inside scoring, generational passing and versatile defence.
Going into the offseason, Simmons likely realised the need to add another dimension --specifically, shooting-- to his game. Talk about Simmons' jump shot increased after multiple videos surfaced of the 76er point guard shooting and making shots in pickup games.
After relinquishing representative duties with the Australian Boomers in the recent World Cup, Simmons chose to develop his game over the course of the summer, putting in work with NBA training guru Chris Johnson. According to Johnson and Simmons’ Instagram accounts, Ben was regularly in the gym working on his craft, with his improvements endorsed by teammate Tobias Harris.
“He’s made big improvements to his game. His jump shot's looking really good and he has confidence in shooting. I just kept telling him, even in these workouts where you're playing, have the confidence to shoot them, and don't get discouraged if you miss. This is where you build that type of confidence.
"It's been a good sight to see, how hard he's been working.”
Simmons might have made significant improvement to his shot and it may be somewhat vindicated by his first made three, but this it comes with a caveat or two.
It's a preseason game. The clock was winding down, while his defender was backing off him, almost daring him to take the shot. Ben also had no attempts other than this one from outside during the game, possibly hinting at a bit of an unwillingness to shoot from outside.
Brett Brown seemed to carry similar thoughts.
“He made a shot. Good. And that's kind of personally the extent of it for me,” Brown said. “I think the whole thing is so overblown. I think in general, it's so inflated the attention, and that's what I think.
"He's young, we got a long season. I'm just not gonna react over it, and I really mean that. He made a three.”
Context is important. Again, it is preseason and it is against a non-NBA team that wasn't pressuring him at the perimeter, but it’s still hard not to get excited about the prospect of Simmons nailing 3-pointers.
Philadelphia enters a stage where their expectations are to make the Finals, and their chances will be raised with slight improvement on Simmons' outside shooting. His shooting will open the floor significantly for the Sixers' half-court offence, allowing other players, particularly Embiid, to be more effective.
With less double teams and more room to work with, Joel can operate in the post more freely if Simmons succeeds in generating space from the perimeter, as opposed to hanging out at the dunker’s spot. For Philly’s other players, driving lanes will be more open - help defenders won’t clog the paint if they are forced to acknowledge Simmons from the outside.
As the game slows down, the need for an adequate jump shot is needed. This is especially the case in the playoffs, as we have seen players exposed when teams game plan in the postseason, starting with Tony Allen and most recently, Simmons and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Against the Boston Celtics two years ago and the Toronto Raptors this past year, Simmons has been quite inconsistent, sometimes being quite invisible in the half-court. The floor beckons to be even more clogged this season, with the departure of starter J.J. Reddick possibly hindering spacing for the Sixers.
Additionally, after losing Jimmy Butler, Philly is without a bona fide closer. This makes Ben’s development of an outside shot even more important, in order to generate isolation opportunities effectively, regardless of who the shot goes to.
The Sixers did not sign Simmons to a lucrative extension for him to stay the player he is today. They signed him, hoping he turns into a player that will consistently help their chances to contend in the next half decade.
"To win a championship. Every other individual accolade comes along with doing your job. You can't go out and say you want to win certain things unless it's going to help the team win."
Simmons is locked in on winning that championship this season, and it all starts with that made preseason three.