September 25, 2019
As a rule of thumb, you are right to be wary about any quotes regarding player development offered up during the preseason. In the case of Ben Simmons, who has basically ignored the three-point line for his first two NBA seasons, it's okay feel skeptical he's going to return from an offseason of work and look like Ray Allen.
But at his annual luncheon with the media on Wednesday afternoon, Sixers head coach Brett Brown was as forceful as he has ever been regarding Simmons' jumper, and he says the work Simmons has put in has empowered him during early workouts with his teammates.
"The time that he has invested over the course of this summer is the best by a longshot that he ever has," Brown said. "His awareness of this thing in the marketplace, he's prideful, he gets it. His confidence that I saw when he came back to Philadelphia and played in our gym over the last few weeks just stood out, it shone as if he had invested time and he was looking forward to showing us."
Offseason workout jumpers and in-game jumpers are different, however, and none of that means anything if the Sixers don't do their best to bridge Simmons' summer confidence into on-court results.
That battle will start as early as training camp, where Brown says everything remains on the table. One method to put Simmons in a shooter's frame of mind, he said Wednesday, might be to sag off Simmons throughout camp as opponents do throughout the season, testing his will to shoot in practice sessions long before he has to do it in a game. And the message from the staff is going to be clear — the willingness to shoot is what they will measure him on, not necessarily his raw percentages.
"Once somebody has to be guarded, the rules change. The holy grail in our sport is to avoid rotations," Brown said. "If Ben Simmons is coming off a pick-and-roll and he actually has to be hedged out on and rollers can get behind, or they're not back just showing a crowd all the time on Joel [Embiid]...he has the ability to chew up space both on and off the ball in a way that can be harmful [to opponents]. He's coming out of a cannon."
But this is not just a matter of challenging Simmons in practice sessions and leaving everything else alone, according to Brown. One of the big themes of this preseason is the alignments Philadelphia will change on the offensive side of the ball, some of which we got into earlier this week. And there's one hot spot in particular Brown has his eyes on with Simmons: the dunker's spot.
Usually reserved for big men, Sixers fans have grown accustomed to Simmons hanging out in that area by the baseline when he's away from the ball, which has been Brown's way of working around Simmons' shooting issue. No more, says Brown, who is looking to put Simmons in situations where he'll be comfortable and confident shooting the basketball.
"You're not going to see me put him down there at the start of the year. I want to give him a chance to be spaced. You're probably going to see him in one of the corners, but I'm going to start there. We're going to encourage him to shoot threes, and we're going to encourage him... if he sees a straight-line drive, take off and eat it up," Brown said. "I think I can help him use the space in both of those ways."
None of this guarantees Simmons will be a completely different player, and while Brown knows how critical his development here is to the success of the team, Simmons won't have a blinding green light. The coach believes the Sixers are a championship-caliber team, and one of his major goals to help them get there is to capture the East's No. 1 seed. They won't be able to do that if Simmons lays bricks from the outside for four quarters.
"With Ben, we're not going to hunt threes. When they are available, I want him to shoot them. The reckless use of threes doesn't tie into my initial statement of our team being huge," Brown said. "I do think we can play a style of play that is just smashmouth defense and bully ball offense, I think this team has the ability to do that. And so it leans more toward that than, let's come down and crank out threes."
But the mandate for Simmons is clear, and the coaching staff is doing what they can to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Now it's on him to step up.
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