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October 03, 2019

Here's a Ben Simmons jumper update from Sixers training camp

Talking about Ben Simmons' jumper is quickly approaching Markelle Fultz territory where nobody wins when it gets brought up. Either you're getting crushed by people who want to look at the world through rose-colored glasses and ignore the topic, or you're being accused of writing propaganda for discussing any other part of Simmons' game.

(I am not being dramatic for effect. After writing about Simmons' leadership in camp Wednesday, which was noticeable in the time we watched and has been raved about by his teammates, PhillyVoice received an email with the subject line, "The Ben Simmons Propaganda Begins." That's where we're at on this subject, which is just a small part of the story of his game.)

One thing is clear — the topic is not going away. And it has evolved into a glorified punchline among Simmons' teammates, including Tobias Harris, who joked about it unprompted during a scrum with reporters on Thursday. 

"Ben hit 20 threes today," Tobias Harris said before putting on his serious face and noting Simmons has been hunting his jumper more and forcing people defending him to second guess how to cover him. Sixers players, Harris said, are going over in pick-and-rolls a little bit more than they have in the past so he's not getting a free look at the rim.

Simmons, who we've noted for stepping up as a vocal leader during the early stages of preseason, has taken his job as a leader of the franchise more seriously in basically every way. By all accounts, he has taken his defensive responsibilities seriously, he has been loud on the floor, and he has even taken a more serious approach to the less fun part of his job, talking to people like yours truly.

But he still doesn't have a lot of interest in talking about his development there or what the game is giving him in practice. Given the chance to discuss his shot opportunities in practice, Simmons basically gave a non-answer.

"Yeah, I've had shots. I play basketball," Simmons said. "Have I ever made a three in practice? Yeah." 

His head coach, on the other hand, went into a little more detail on the situation, and I'll include the full transcription of that below so you can get a full grasp of the conversation with reporters.

REPORTER: You mentioned [during the preseason luncheon] you may ask defenders to back off of him to challenge him to shoot. Have you done that?

BROWN: We go back and we study the tape, and I have not done that yet as a scheme to produce the environment — and I will — the good news, and everybody should hear, is how many shots has he passed up? There aren't any. I think that's massive. He hasn't passed up, and we study it and he understands what I think and what we're trying to do. 

I will say, and maybe you don't agree, this still isn't the thing. To me, he is a 23-year-old All-Star, it's hugely important, we understand it, especially in April, May and June, and we have to set the stage. But my center point and where I still see the world with him is I think he could be the best defensive player in the NBA, I think he has to feature on an All-Defensive team because he can, he's going to grow as a leader and a point guard we just talked about, and I think the other stuff is going to progressively evolve.

REPORTER: With that said, you don't want him forcing shots, correct?

BROWN: That's exactly right, because the groundswell of this thing is bizarre. I understand it, but it gains its own life and he obviously listens — and I hope he doesn't. You know, there are sometimes where, if he doesn't want to shoot, he doesn't want to shoot. And so it's always about, okay well that sounds great but what about April, May and June? I understand that, and the starting point needs to be now. 

So how do we do that? Is it corner three spacing? I think so. Is it people go under middle pick-and-rolls? I think so. We can all pinpoint different areas where it could show itself, but to like jam it down somebody's throat and only say this is his judgment day, there's lots else going on we should be looking at as well. 

REPORTER: On the other side of that, how much of tolerance do you have if he's a month in shooting 20 percent from the corners, do you alter the plan? 

BROWN: Absolutely not. And I think for me, my tolerance level on, "Oh, Ben missed, oh, Ben missed," is really sort of high. I have a high tolerance level. I'm going to let him, I'm with him. We're going to get this thing to a level that he's comfortable with shooting.

He put in the time. If somebody didn't put in the time, I'm not with them. I don't feel a responsibility to do that where it's going to hurt the team. I don't. But I know what he did over the summer, and I know where I have to help him get. So my tolerance level is completely high, there are going to be sometimes where you think, hey, Joel could have been posted or whatever, but the good news to me also is the team feels this. They're not wondering what's going on here, they're supportive of it. That's completely how I see it.

Brown and other players (in a more serious manner than Harris) have noted Simmons has taken and made shots during camp. Mike Scott said Simmons made "a couple" on Thursday alone, and Simmons was working on his jumper when media was allowed into the facility at the end of practice.

But this is where I cannot stress enough how desperate everyone is for new data points to focus on with this topic. Even reporters who are covering the team every day are at an information deficit, as we have seen only about 15 minutes of real basketball since training camp opened on Tuesday. Simmons could have turned into Larry Bird over the offseason and it would be impossible for anyone without a bias one way or another to know or say with certainty.

From the outside looking in, the Sixers are saying and doing the right things here. They are encouraging a player who has put in a lot of work on his shot to let it fly in games, and they are willing to live with the consequences if he struggles early. What remains to be seen is how willing they are to walk that walk when the lights come on, and what Simmons' summer of work translates to on the floor.

This has been your training camp update on Ben Simmons' jumper.

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