By Sam Bennett
In 2016, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons from LSU to be their point guard of the future. Based on how he looked in year one, this looked like a slam dunk for the franchise. He was a dominant slasher, amazing playmaker, and force on the defensive end who was able to take on the opposing team’s best player. All this in year one. The future for the Sixers looked extremely bright with the tandem of Simmons and Embiid. Now, four years after he was selected, he is still almost identical to the player we saw in that first season. That may not seem like that much of an issue at first, because of all the great things Simmons was in his rookie year, except for the fact that teams have figured him out–especially on the offensive end. Let’s take a deeper dive into what turned possibly the most promising young star in the NBA into one of its most disappointing.
The main issue with Ben Simmons undoubtedly comes on the offensive side of the ball, and this all begins with a lack in change to his shooting, or even decline in it. In his first year in the league, Ben Simmons shot 98.9% of his attempts from inside the arc, with 79.6% of those shots coming within 10 feet. This made it so (while yes) he was only a threat from two point range, there was still a good chance he would take a mid range jumper, which meant defenses needed to be alert. Now let’s take a look at this season. Simmons has shot 95.5% of his attempts from two point range (yes that means his three pointers have gone up, but I’ll get back to that later). But this time, 94.2% of those are coming from inside 10 feet. Simmons has essentially gotten rid of his midrange game. This equates to defenders not even really seeing him as a threat until he gets into the paint. You may be thinking, “Well, his three point percentage has quadrupled since his freshman year”. But then, I ask the question, if a player is going to take one three pointer every other game, and only make one every ten, am I really going to risk guarding him out there? If you have watched just one Sixers game this season, you know that even a wide open Simmons is not even an afterthought from three point range. So, to conclude this segment, Ben Simmons has become even less of an outside danger than he was in his first NBA season. Whereas most players shoot more the more their careers progress, especially early in their careers, Simmons has declined in his shooting tendencies. And this, I believe, is the root of his offensive difficulties.
There are a couple of areas that I would like to focus on when it comes to the effect of Simmons’ shooting tendencies. One of the main effects is a decrease in his shooting efficiency. There is the obvious: his field goal percentage has decreased by over 4% since his rookie season. Sometimes, however, field goal percentage does not tell enough of the story. So, let’s look at true shooting percentage, which takes into account free throws, which he has improved at, and three pointers. When we look at his true shooting percentage (the best way to measure a player’s efficiency), he has also gotten worse. Not as drastically, but still, considering his free throw percentage has somewhat drastically increased, this is a bit of a surprise. The reasoning behind this is likely the fact that defenses can focus almost completely on trying to take away his inside game, as he is not a threat from literally any other place on the floor. Now, moving onto his turnovers. While his shooting has been a key topic of discussion for both local and national media and fans, a less focused upon issue is his turnover rate. Generally speaking, point guards’ turnover rates tend to go down as they progress in their career, especially in a scenario when that player’s usage rate is decreasing. Over the past three years, Simmons’ usage rate has been decreasing, yet his turnover rate has been increasing. Again, I attribute this to his continuous driving into the inside instead of having the ability to shoot from a greater range, just to have a prepared defender either strip the ball or block him at the room.
To end off this offensive dive into Ben Simmons, I would like to bring up one final statistic, which is offensive win shares. While this is not the perfect statistic by any means, it still is a good indicator of offensive contribution. In his rookie year, Simmons was ranked 43rd in the NBA in offensive win shares, around the likes of Victor Oladipo, Jamal Murray, Bradley Beal, etc. So far this season, Simmons is tied for 205th with the likes of Kent Bazemore, Ryan Archidiacono, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. While many of these statistics are based on a very small sample size, one sixth of the season, it is telling how Simmons has been unchanged or even worse on offense since his rookie campaign in the 2017-18 season.