On Friday, Brett Brown said thanks but no thanks to the diagnoses of Kobe Bryant and armchair physiologists everywhere when he flatly rejected the premise that Ben Simmons’ current jumpshot is broken beyond repair.
“In regards to a complete sort of rebuild to his shot, no, we’re not going to do that,” Brown said.
With that, the Sixers head coach threw cold water on the “truther” movement that has emerged regarding the true identity of Simmons’ dominant shooting hand. His star rookie might be naturally ambidextrous, and he might be perfectly at ease finishing around the rim with his right hand, but he has been shooting with his left for a long time past, and that will continue to be the case for a long time coming.
The good news is that Brown’s prescription for Simmons’ jumper isn’t a simple matter of hard work and repetition. He and his staff see what everybody else does. And their hope is that Simmons’ struggles in the Sixers’ five-game loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals will convince him to take the mechanical changes they suggest seriously and spend the summer building the necessary muscle memory in the gym.
“There will be some intense refinement,” Brown said. “But to call it like a complete blow-up and makeover, I’m not prepared to do that.”
Still, everyone seems to be in general agreement on what needs to happen this offseason. Simmons’ jumpshot is not the only thing that his coaches addressed on the handout they gave to him in his exit interview. They’d like to see him continue to build his body, and improve his handle, and work on finishing in traffic and at the rim. But most of that is stuff that he has worked on since leaving LSU to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. The need to develop an away-from-the-basket game, however, is the angle whose urgent necessity was most driven home in the Sixers’ last series of the season.
After blowing through NBA defenses with ease during the regular season, Simmons’ experience against the Celtics was an eye-opening one. He shot just. 475 from the field in the five-game series, down from a .545 mark in the regular season. More significantly, he averaged nearly two fewer assists per game as Boston used his reluctance to shoot to clog up space on the court and take away the shooter he was looking to find with his elite passing ability.
“You want to sort of start the season being reminded what the playoffs showed,” Browns aid, “and it’s difficult for Ben to play in an environment the Celtics guarded him, and find ways to impact the game as much as he can without the thing that we’re talking about. And so whether it is a jumpshot, whether it is a free throw, the inspiration to work is real in his head given the situation that we just left. And so to carry over with his personal desire to improve, along with the memory of what just happened, how teams are guarding him, it’s an easy sell for the summer, and I think Ben’s going to knock it out of the park.”
The strategy that Brown outlined for Simmons included a number of different approaches. Although the Sixers will not be taking Bryant’s recent advice to rebuild Simmons’ shooting form from the ground up, they will be making some mechanical changes. As with any athletic movement, it starts with his lower half, which currently features a narrow base in which his toes point to the right and often leads to his chest and shoulders being square to a different target line than his toes. But Brown also acknowledged that the team will attempt to get Simmons to reduce the flare in his shooting elbow that sees it stick out somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees to the left, an idiosyncrasy that both limits its repeatability and infects the ball with a four-o’clock-to-10-o’clock spin that plays like a pin ball in the rim.
“I think there are lots of coach-speak things we can talk of with this topic of Ben’s shot,” Brown said. “I think most importantly, he knows this. If we just zoom in to his free throw. He was, I believe, a 70 percent or so free-throw shooter at LSU. This year, during the regular season, he dipped to, I believe, 56. In the playoffs, he improved. The pieces aren’t something that he wasn’t familiar with at some point in his career. Seventy percent or so at LSU is decent. It’s not where we want to get him. Ultimately I want to move him to 75 and figure it out from there. I really want to see him go to the free-throw line a lot next year, and part of that elbow under the ball thing you’re talking about I agree with.”
Both Brown and general manager Bryan Colangelo said that the Sixers are considering adding more personnel to their coaching and development staff, among whom could be shooting specialists who would augment current shooting coach John Townsend. Brown called Townsend a “valued asset,” and said that Simmons will be spending extensive time working with the longtime NBA coach.
He needs it, and he knows he needs it, and, come October, it will be fascinating to see the results.