What does Ben Simmons do for an encore? This is the biggest question for Australian NBA fans as the new season approaches.
After a trailblazing rookie campaign in the NBA, one in which Simmons claimed Rookie of the Year honours and catapulted the Philadelphia 76ers up the Eastern Conference standings, it is time to ask more of Simmons. Brett Brown and the Sixers coaching staff definitely will be.
What Simmons accomplished in his first go around the NBA was astonishing. That’s well established by now. There are a slew of historical indicators – many of which we covered in April - that validate Simmons’ standing as one of the best rookies in league history. From assist numbers to triple doubles; pivotal battles with LeBron James to highlight playoff events; the Australian’s rookie season had it all.
Simmons’ wonderful debut sets the standard for what will follow throughout his career. And yet, in order to elevate his game, and for Simmons to take his place among the NBA elites, there are a series of improvements available that will make him an even deadlier threat on the court. Predictably, many will point to his jumpshot as the starting point for such discussion.
Simmons’ outside shot has been a beacon for debate throughout his basketball life. The noise was only amplified in the aftermath of the Celtics severely limiting him during the playoffs. The Australian hinted at improvements within his jumper in an interview with Fox Sports back in August, although in true Simmons fashion, all of his public comments could best be described as cryptic.
Workout videos and ambiguous comments to the media play well during the offseason, but they are quickly rendered useless once the real stuff starts. And if we bring expectations back into reality, it is highly unlikely Simmons will be launching a high volume of shots from the perimeter any time soon.
More important than Simmons coming out and turning into a knock down shooter – this would be wonderful, but highly unrealistic at this point of his career - is how he handles the blueprint laid out by Boston. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, Simmons’ struggles against the Celtics now appear obvious. A first year phenom, as talented as he may be, having his weaknesses relentlessly picked at, by the coaching wizardry of Brad Stevens is not surprising in the abstract.
Simmons’ rookie season was an unmitigated success and the pain of one week of basketball in May doesn’t change that; although it does offer a glimpse into how he can be slowed down. Not many teams have the talent to match Boston, but you can guarantee everyone will be doing their best to mimic what Stevens and the Celtics accomplished. That in itself could be the greatest accelerant for Simmons’ career. For the first time in his basketball life, he is being forced to adapt in the face of a challenge that emphasises his weaknesses.
By all accounts, Simmons has been busy working away. His head coach certainly sees it. Brown told The Pick and Roll that Simmons has been a gym rat during the offseason and lauded his maturation. Especially when it comes to the mental side of the game.
“We all know that actions speak, most times, far greater and far louder than words. I think that he’s really embracing how to become a pro.
“He’s putting in the time. He understands what the market place says about his deficiencies. He’s prideful and he wants to fix that.”
Hearing Brown speak in such glowing terms should be music to the ears of every Sixers fan. The franchise has established itself as an upper echelon team in the Eastern Conference and will be banking on growth from Simmons, along with Joel Embiid, to take that one final step into the Championship conversation.
Team success will ultimately drive the perception of Simmons’ season, especially once the playoffs arrive – a repeat of his struggles against Boston would draw greater attention should it happen again. A maiden All-Star berth would represent a significant accomplishment, and it is easily achievable. There are a number of improvement areas within his game that can best be described as low hanging fruit. Cleaning these up will elevate Simmons without the need for drastic changes.
He was a 56% free throw shooter in year one; getting this up to 70% would provide the simultaneous boost of increasing his scoring, and hopefully, his assertiveness as confidence from the line grows. If Simmons has truly been working away on his jumpshot, then this should shine through at the free throw line.
Defensively, Simmons shows signs of a beastly defender, only to undo himself with a series of mental errors. Another year of experience should reduce these maddening mishaps. Greater attention to detail is his next step, when it comes to defensive improvement.
Ben Simmons had one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history. With a few small improvements, his second year promises to be even better.