Oh great, another piece about Ben Simmons and his jump shot. Or, more specifically, his lack of one. Surely it’s all been said by now, and there is nothing new to discuss on this topic.
However, the Philadelphia 76ers are now down 3-2 in their Eastern Conference semi-final against the Toronto Raptors after a 36-point belting yesterday and are in danger of a disappointing early exit from the play-offs. So it’s a salient time to once again talk about Simmons’s jumper, because it’s a large reason for the Sixers being in a hole and for his personal struggles this post-season.
If you follow basketball even casually, by now you would have heard that Ben Simmons is a great player, yet he’s also a flawed one. While no player is perfect, the issue with Simmons is that his flaw is a crucial one, particularly in the modern NBA, which puts a premium of perimeter shooting.
Simmons’s flaw – to be precise, unlike his shooting – is his jump shot. He doesn’t attempt many jumpers, and when he does he misses them. It’s pretty much that simple, and none of this is new news.
Apart from the obvious fact that a lack of confidence now plays a role in Simmons not taking or making jumpers, the other component is physical. Specifically, Simmons’s shooting mechanics are dreadful.
As a youngster I was a little spoilt in that my old man was a professional basketball coach. As such, I had the fundamentals of the game drilled into me on a daily basis. Most of the time I found it extremely boring and/or not much fun, though as I got older I realised how much they aided my development.
When it came to shooting, there were a number of exercises I was made to do in order to improve. The most common involved me lying flat on my back on the floor or bed, holding the ball in front of my face, and shooting towards the sky or ceiling.
If my elbow was under the ball, my middle finger following through and my wrist snapping cleanly, the ball would generally land back in front of my face – right where it should, indicating I was shooting ‘straight’. If I didn’t do any of those things, the ball would usually land somewhere else, immediately highlighting an issue to correct.
Yet it wasn’t just accuracy that this drill improved too, it was technique, and those two things are intrinsically linked. The reason a specific technique is deemed ‘textbook’ in any sport is because it provides the greatest chance of success.
Which brings us back to Ben Simmons. Bluntly, his technique does not provide him with the greatest chance of success.
His main issue is that his elbow is not under the ball when he shoots; it flays quite significantly out to the left. This dramatically decreases his ability to control the ball going straight, as he’s virtually releasing the ball ‘sideways’ towards the ring.
When your technique is that off you basically have two choices: persist with it and make it work as best you can or completely overhaul it. At present it seems the Sixers and Simmons are going with the former. I’m not sure that’s the correct strategy.
Not everyone can or does have a textbook technique. I was always amazed at Reggie Miller – one of the greatest shooters in NBA history – because he didn’t really ‘tuck’ his elbow under the ball in the manner the coaching manuals suggest you should. However, you can’t argue with the results – Miller shot 40 per cent from three-point land for his career and 89 per cent from the free-throw line. By anyone’s calculations that’s elite shooting, and if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Unfortunately for Simmons, his shooting is broken.
In two full NBA seasons Simmons doesn’t even have a three-point percentage because, stunningly, he hasn’t made a single three-pointer. Meanwhile, his free throw percentage is an appalling 58 per cent. While I’m all for ignoring the critics if your unorthodox technique works, it most certainly doesn’t for Simmons, as evidenced by the numbers and the eye test.
The funny thing is that I actually didn’t think Simmons’s shooting form was all that bad in college. I watched a lot of his LSU games and his elbow never stood out as a major concern. I actually thought his balance was more the issue. He seemed to take a lot of shots where he didn’t land where he took off, and while sub-optimal, that’s a relatively easy fix.
Conversely, overhauling your entire technique isn’t such an easy task. Simmons seems to be avoiding that option and is instead looking to repetition for an improvement on his accuracy. It could very well prove to be an exercise in futility.
With all the coaching, analysis and resources that an NBA club employs, I struggle to believe Philadelphia don’t have Simmons completing drills that could improve his technique. Yet that elbow doesn’t seem to be getting any tighter under the ball.
Apart from persisting with his current technique or overhauling it, there is a third strategy that could be implemented. It’s an extremely dramatic one that has been floated before, but it’s one I’m starting to come around to.
Given how good Simmons can be shooting with his ‘off’ hand close to the basket, there has been the radical suggestion – led by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor – that he should start shooting right-handed from distance. It might sound crazy, but Simmons honestly couldn’t be any worse if he switched hands.
Simmons’s own teammate, JJ Redick – himself an elite shooter with a brilliant technique – is on the record as saying that he thinks Simmons’s form is better with his right hand. If you’ve ever seen Redick shoot a basketball, you’d know that’s all one needs to hear to suggest it’s time for Simmons to mix it up.
It would be dramatic. It would be hard. It would be uncomfortable. It would take some swallowing of his pride. Yet the bottom line is that Simmons simply can’t continue to be this bad of a shooter. So why not?