There are many similarities between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons.
Both are extremely athletic, versatile wings with incredible length and defensive prowess. They are point forwards on elite teams in the Eastern Conference. They also once upon a time shared a common weakness — shooting.
While Giannis has transformed himself into a respectable jump shooter over the past three seasons, Simmons has been reluctant to do the same. The question isn’t whether or not he is able to improve that part of his game. The real question is why he has neglected to work on it.
Going back to his one season at LSU, Simmons had the makeup of many star college basketball players. The potential was clearly there, but there were some flaws that were very apparent. Clearly, his biggest area of concern was his shooting, but that is something that many players have vastly improved upon once they entered the league. Some prime examples would include players like Jason Kidd, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Blake Griffin.
During his actual rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Dan Dakich had a former college assistant coach on his radio show in Indianapolis that offered up a few noteworthy comments on the Aussie superstar’s time at LSU. According to the assistant, Simmons was firmly against the idea of working on his jump shot. He refused to spend time on it and felt as though he didn’t need to.
As one would imagine, that opened up a lot of eyes around the league. How is someone who is this naturally gifted opposed to the idea of working to improve his overall game? Especially a guy that was taken with the first overall pick?
Giannis went from a one-dimensional player to an MVP in just a few years. Simmons has the potential to follow in those same footsteps, but refuses to go down that path.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown has addressed Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot more this season, but it has been more of a passive, comical approach. While he clearly understands the 23-year-old’s value to the team and the role that he must play, how would it impede what they are trying to accomplish now? Wouldn’t they be in a better position to win a championship if their starting point guard had a respectable jump shot?
A player often compared to Simmons is Draymond Green. Both have a similar playing style as a facilitator on offense and an excellent overall defender. The last time Green took less than three treys per game was the 2013-14 season. His percentage has hovered around 30 percent, but he’s taking them. Some teams elect to leave him open and let him shoot. Most of the time it works, but he has also burned them many times.
Giannis, on the other hand, is shooting 32 percent from deep on 5.2 attempts per game. Those numbers don’t look like much on paper, but it is causing all sorts of problems for opposing defenses. Instead of being able to sag off and scheme against him, they now have to respect his jumper. That is one more thing they have to worry about when defending him, and it opens up the interior of their defense even more.
This same type of defensive treatment happened to Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo early in their careers. Rubio has gotten his career three-point percentage up above 32 percent and Rondo has shot 36 percent from deep in his last two seasons. If Simmons is even a very small threat to shoot in the half-court offense, it will open up things even more for the Sixers.
The most notable difference between Giannis and Simmons lies within. It is how they are wired, between the ears. After claiming the MVP and leading his team to 60 wins as the top seed in the East, the Greek Freak demanded more of himself. He has shown a desire and a need to improve. His never-satisfied mentality is the reason why he is arguably the best player in the game today. That is what separates these two players.
Simmons has never shown a desire or willingness to even address his lack of shooting. James Harden takes as many three-pointers per game as he has taken in his entire career. Again, the man doesn’t have to make them, but if he can at least knock down a few, it will change the way defenses game plan against him.
Simmons even struggles with the easiest part of the game of basketball — free-throw shooting. It is odd how often he lobbies for a foul call to get to the charity stripe. He is a career 58 percent free-throw shooter and only gets to the line four to five times per game. That number is down from last year, which correlates to his scoring average dipping. As talented and impactful as he is, having him on the floor in crunch time situations can be detrimental to the Sixers.
Right now, Simmons is one of the best defenders in the league. He leads the league in steals and is near the top of the leaderboard in deflections. He ranks fourth in assists, but Philly currently ranks 16th in offense and 17th in pace. Those numbers should spike with Embiid sidelined for at least the next couple of weeks.
The vision, passing ability and aggressive approach in attacking the rim of Simmons have been a major asset for the Sixers. The reason why their transition offense is one of the best in the league is that he has the ball in those situations. He can even finish the break himself, given he is close enough to the basket. He has only taken 17 total shots outside of the paint this season, making just six of them.
That being said, their half-court offense is atrocious. There is no spacing for Joel Embiid to operate. Simmons is either camping out under the basket, and/or they simply do not have enough shooters surrounding those two to stretch the defense. This is a major problem to have, especially come the postseason.
A lot has been made of Embiid’s time spent outside of the paint on offense. The guys on the set of TNT particularly called him out for it last month, and for good reason. The All-Star big man is widely recognized as the most dominant center in the game today. A major part of the reason why he is operating outside of the paint is due to his partner staying near the rim.
As Philadelphia searches for a trade partner to acquire a shooter and/or help on the perimeter, those concerns could have been alleviated earlier had Simmons opted to work on his shooting. He doesn’t have to shoot 45 percent from distance, but he should be comfortable taking those shots. When Simmons attempts a three-pointer, it is blown up and made into some grand spectacle. This makes him out to look like the butt of a joke instead of one of the best players in the game.
The opportunity for Simmons to join the ranks of the elite players is there. He has the physical tools, the basketball IQ and the supporting cast to make it happen. Whether or not it comes to fruition is up to him.
Forget about The Process, Philly’s title hopes hinge on Simmons adding to his game.