September 30, 2019
It is tough to find a middle ground talking about Ben Simmons’ shooting in the offseason, because both sides of the argument can claim they are right. It is fair to point out he has put in a lot of work to improve his game, but it is also fair to note he has put in a lot of work before this offseason without anyone seeing it pay off with more attempted threes.
There was, however, a different vibe to Simmons’ talk at Philadelphia’s media day on Monday, and he made a very simple declaration when asked how he will approach shooting opportunities this season.
“It’s a huge part of the game,” Simmons said, “so if it’s open, I’ll take it.”
We have heard Simmons make verbal commitments to shoot in the past, but rarely have we heard him entertain the topic all that seriously.
There was a level of what I would call earned stubbornness during his first two seasons when the topic would come up. Here was a player who had been taken No. 1 overall and probably exceeded expectations for what could have been expected early on. An All-Star by his second year, Simmons also helped lead a massive win streak to close out his rookie season with Joel Embiid sidelined by an injury, proving his capability to lift up the supporting cast around him.
And yet in many circles, the conversation with Simmons began and ended with his jumper. It impacted the team a great deal in the playoffs the last two seasons, so all the good things he has done end up fading into the background a bit. That sort of situation would frustrate anyone, let alone someone who is under the public spotlight all the time.
The biggest development this summer, then, may be Simmons’ approach to dealing with the onslaught of opinions and questions people have about him. After detailing in a recent interview how he had rediscovered his love for basketball over the course of the offseason, Simmons told reporters Monday that tuning out the noise has been good for him.
“I think I was just too worried about what people were saying, what was going on around,” Simmons said. “Too many outside noises, and I was able to block them out this summer. I was able to really block them out this summer and not really focus on what people say. I don’t really care anymore unless it’s coming from someone in my circle or someone who’s trying to help me get better.”
“I think [this summer] it was really taking charge and saying you know what, this is what I need. X, Y, and Z, I need this guy, I need this in place, and really just locking into that and getting a rhythm going in my schedule with what I was doing, and just sticking with it.”
The main man, or at least the public face behind Simmons’ work this summer was Chris Johnson, a basketball trainer Simmons spent a lot of time with out in Los Angeles. Johnson’s (edited, of course) videos of Simmons shooting have been the talk of Philadelphia this summer, but the work goes beyond just camping out from beyond the arc.
Simmons claims to have worked on a little bit of everything with Johnson this summer. That includes ball-handling, touch around the rim, floaters, and yes, the jumper everyone can’t stop talking about.
Tobias Harris was a witness to all this during summer workouts he participated in with Simmons and called him a “gym rat” on Monday, raving about the work his younger teammate put between their loss to Toronto and now. Harris claims there wasn’t an overarching focus during the workouts the duo had together, but he believes the time he spent with Simmons this summer was important in beginning to build the foundation for a championship team, as they found out the hard way last year how tough it is to do it on the fly.
“I could pick his brain on certain things that he sees on the floor, or how can I help you be a better player, or vice versa,” Harris said of their workouts together. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in him, not only on the basketball floor but off the floor too, his maturity and just where his mindset is on this upcoming year. Those are positive things.”
After signing a max extension with the Sixers this summer, Simmons’ future in Philadelphia is clear even if the development of his game is not. He is one of the franchise’s main pillars, and it’s a responsibility he must take seriously if they want to play a the championship level they all seem convinced they’re capable of.
Perhaps that starts with Simmons, who JJ Redick used to describe as the man who “sits behind the glass wall and looks at everyone,” stepping out of his shell and leading vocally, something he hasn’t always done no matter how well or poorly he played.
On Monday, Simmons stepped up and offered quite a challenge to a team filled with defensive potential, including a teammate in Joel Embiid who has long coveted a Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
“I want to be the best defensive player on the team,” Simmons said. “So hopefully everyone on my team hears that, and they strive to do the same thing.”
New year, new Simmons. Only time will tell if this version has staying power.
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