Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid sprained his shoulder last week against Cleveland, only days after Ben Simmons re-aggravated his back injury.
When people talk about Ben Simmons the first thing that comes up is always the same: why won’t he shoot threes?
In an NBA era dominated by the three-point shot, Ben is among a very small group of players who still refuse to extend their game beyond the perimeter.
Simmons prefers to rely on his freakish athleticism to score around the rim. This would be perfectly fine if his teammate Joel Embiid didn’t want to do the same thing. The problem with two elite inside scorers on the same team is they cramp the precious space they both require to be effective.
In ordinary circumstances it would be expected that the lesser talent would sacrifice their game to benefit the star. But in this case both players have equally strong claims to being the focal point of their team, and while Embiid has been willing to stretch the floor and man the perimeter on occasion, he has publicly stated his preference of playing under the basket.
Simmons, on the other hand, is at his best carving through driving lanes and using his size and athleticism to overwhelm smaller defenders. But to do this he needs as much space as possible. Sadly this means the 76ers have found themselves in a catch 22 scenario. They have the fortune of two young all-star talents but are cursed by their clashing play styles.
The question is: does Simmons shooting the ball actually solve Philadelphia’s problems?
My answer is no. A great example of a player attempting to force three-point shooting into his game with close to disastrous results is Russell Westbrook.
A career 30 per cent shooting average from three has only been a source of confusion and frustration for both his team and their fans. Jacking up over five threes a game last season in Oklahoma, Westbrook struggled to be as efficient and dominant as he had been in the past despite his outrageous stat lines.
If Simmons were to take the same approach, it would doubtless have a very similar result. As a player who has attempted only 23 three-pointers in his entire NBA career it is hard to believe that Ben would achieve even a barely acceptable 30 per cent clip from deep over the course of a season.
However fast-forward to 2020 and Westbrook is now a part of a new-look small ball Houston Rockets side, and unlike his teammates, his role does not revolve entirely around his ability to shoot the three-ball.
The space that is provided by his teammates has opened up driving lanes Westbrook could have only dreamed about in the past. His long-range attempts have plummeted and his scoring has soared. This is the perfect position for his aggressive slashing play style.
Ben Simmons isn’t Russell Westbrook and the 76ers are not the Rockets, but his talents are obvious, and it would be stupid to waste them in some desperate attempt to change him into something he is not.
So if shooting threes isn’t the answer, what is? Unfortunately in his current position it’s hard to see Ben reaching his true potential. Philly have made it clear that they will not look to trade either star.
Fortunately we live in a time of player empowerment and Simmons is represented by none other than Rich Paul, the agent responsible for freeing Anthony Davis from New Orleans, so it isn’t completely inconceivable that Ben could force a move to another team.
In a nine-game stretch this season when Embiid was out injured Simmons averaged 23.5 points per game, shooting 65 per cent from the field. It’s clear that when made the focal point of the team, Ben can be an unstoppable force.
Being a six-foot ten-inch point guard, Ben is the largest of any player to play the position, including LeBron James. This makes him a match-up nightmare for every opposition. If he were to find himself on a team designed specifically around his skill set, then we might see him reach a new level, similar to what Giannis Antetokounmpo has achieved in Milwaukee.
Simmons is in a sticky position. If he can’t work out a way to play alongside Embiid, he may have to look elsewhere if he hopes to reach his enormous potential.