Sixers point guard Ben Simmons has no jumper, but he does have a face-up game in his pocket.
Makes little sense at first read, right? Typically a good face-up game comes with the dual threat of a jump shot or a post move, which is catalyzed by a strong dribbling ability. Sixers guard Ben Simmons notorious reluctant to shoot a jump shot has taken headlines consistently, and it will continue as long as the game doesn’t abruptly revert back to a ’90s style of basketball.
The arguments for Ben Simmons, much like the ones for Giannis Antetokounmpo earlier in his career, surround his freakish speed for his size and his ability to get to the rim. Well the argument made here won’t be about that — kind of. It might sound tired, but Simmons was the top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft for his unmatched passing ability coming from his 6’9″ frame. He isn’t the most polished player on the Sixers roster, or even the most threatening, but he is the most important player in this offensive system. His job is to make a scores job easier, and he excels in doing so.
But where his game is elevated is when he switches to aggressor mode on offense. He’s very aware, maybe even overly aware, of his limitations on offense, but also pinpoints matchups he can take advantage of. He does so using pure quickness, but also sizes up very well. Bball-Index’s Player Grades had Simmons at a C- for post play last season, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see his grade increase significantly.
Simmons has seemed adamant on making his presence felt down low, and not just in transition. His aggressiveness and finding positioning in the post against smaller defenders has been a constant from the first tip-off this season. He tends to win the position battle deep — almost too deep at points — to show off his touch around the rim. He seems to fall in love with shifting to the left side of the basket when he’s near the baseline, but his developing signature move is a turnaround hook shot with his right hand.
The hook shot has been an unbelievable asset for Simmons. His deep positioning here on Julius Randle allows him to get an easy baby hook on the left side of the basket with his right hand. Simmons has a CPOE of 2.6 this season out of the post, according to BBall-Index. He’s been above average in the post, but the real story comes from what happens when he doesn’t get deep positioning.
This is where the cliché freak speed narrative comes into play. Simmons has been absolutely destroying defenders when he grabs the ball in the post without good positioning. He frequently catches the ball on the right side of the basket, with his initial movement being a quick first step with his left, but still angling towards the hoop. His contested finishing is still a work in progress, but with his strength and quick first dribble he’s been able to put the ball in the net on the face-up.
Watch as he dissects two stout defenders in Anthony Davis and Jae Crowder in the two videos above. Davis is giving baseline, banking on his length to prevent Simmons from getting an easy bucket. Simmons attacks towards the baseline, repositions himself under the basket, then finishes with a tough shot. Crowder decided to take away baseline, so Simmons sprints towards the middle, then backs in to a quick turnaround hook shot. Two difficult defenders playing tough defense, only to be met with failure because of Simmons’ touch.
Simmons is the most effective he can be in the half-court offense, when you remember his unforgettable lack of shooting, when it comes in facing up opponents. The Sixers guard’s confidence skyrockets in these scenarios. This is shown in multitudes of ways. Whether it’s a high-arching running hook shot of Aaron Gordon. Or Jeremy Lamb getting out muscled and committing a foul. It could even be Simmons outright beating Mario Hezonja off the dribble. This is Ben Simmons’ version of dynamic right now. And it’s been working brilliantly for him and the Sixers.
Other than late-game Jimmy Butler heroics and Joel Embiid dominance, Simmons face-ups on the wing has been the most reliable form of isolation for this Sixers offense. The Sixers are starting to gain momentum. With momentum comes confidence. Simmons has found ways to score without his jump shot. It’s true that his ceiling will be restricted as long as he refuses to shoot, but his offensive potential is being maximized with face-up opportunities.
The Sixers are gearing for a deep playoff run, and with Simmons finding comfort in the half-court, it’s unlikely he drops another one point egg. His half-court scoring niche has come, and as his face-up volume increases, his scoring production will as well. Brett Brown’s offense runs fluidly with an aggressive Simmons, and if these isolated scenarios are the best for him, expect the Sixers to look towards this more.
(All videos courtesy of 3ball.io)