It’s late August, one of the few calendar windows of at least relative NBA dead time. But NBA fans and writers are obsessive. I’m both. I will find anything to think about, talk about, write about. So, yeah, you better believe when I see a video of Ben Simmons sticking jumpers, my wheels start turning.
Before we get into the inevitable “it’s open gym, relax!” pessimism, let’s just all agree that this jumper, in this video, and in a bunch of other videos we’ve seen of Simmons this summer, looks pretty good. There is really no way to deny that. Now, I understand it’s open gym, and that any NBA player, in theory, can make largely undefended summer jumpers in his sleep.
But Simmons isn’t just any NBA player.
One could argue that Simmons’ jumper is the single-most pivotal skill development in the league — the fulcrum on which the entire championship picture rests. Again, I know it’s a leap, but if he’s even half the shooter he looks like in this video, the 76ers probably become the favorite to win it all.
And the thing is, these are shots Simmons is going to get in real-life NBA games. He’s going to get these shots every single night. Every trip down the floor if he wants them. When you see someone like Devin Booker walking into half-speed pull-ups wearing a sweatshirt, those are not shots he’s going to get against NBA defenses. But defenders are going to continue to sag off Simmons. They are going to be happy to let him take these shots. Until he starts making them. At which point, it might be a wrap.
If you have to even halfway push up on Simmons when he has the ball, and pay attention to him when he doesn’t have the ball, the whole equation changes when it comes to defending the Sixers. Yes, Simmons and Joel Embiid are an unnatural fit. Ideally, Embiid would play with a traditional inside-out point guard who can take defenders away from him and doesn’t look to occupy the same space in the lane. Simmons would probably be best in a Bucks-type situation playing the Giannis role, with shooters all around to spread the floor and a stretch center that keeps the lane open for Simmons to penetrate and orchestrate from the post.
But the Warriors kind of lulled us into believing that ideal fits among star players are a generally achievable thing. They usually aren’t. Guys with the talent of Embiid and Simmons usually win on just that — talent — and they figure everything else out along the way. I don’t want to oversimplify this, and I certainly don’t want to overreact, but look at this Sixers team. They are going to be a defensive beast. Their starting lineup is huge. Nobody in the league had as much success defending Giannis as Al Horford, and now the Sixers have him. Embiid is a top-eight player, at worst. Josh Richardson is really good.
All of Philly’s flaws notwithstanding last season, they still took the eventual champion Raptors to seven games. When Embiid played the way he’s capable of, they were better than the Raptors. And I’m not sure there are words to adequately quantify just how big an obstacle Simmons’ inability — or unwillingness — to shoot was, or perhaps still is. If that part of the equation changes, even moderately, this team is a monster waiting to happen in a wide-open league waiting to be taken over.
So, yes, it’s open gym. It doesn’t mean anything. Yet. I’ve seen people saying Simmons shoots like this every summer, and if that’s true, consider me out of the loop. All I know is I’ve sat on the court multiple times and watched Simmons shoot in morning practices and pregame shootarounds, with nobody defending him and a coaching feeding him perfect passes, and he sure as heck wasn’t shooting like this. It still looked forced. His range still looked significantly limited. There were still plenty of bricks to go around.
Edited tape or not, these shots look smooth. The release is easy and pretty pure, the crooked left hand aside. The step-backs and fadeaways are downright gorgeous. Comfortable. Confident. That first 3-pointer he walks into on the video looks like a good 30 feet, and that thing is wet. If Devin Booker or Hoodie Melo make that shot in an open gym, no one cares. But when a guy who hasn’t made a single 3-pointer in two years in the NBA is banging that shot with that kind of ease, even in the summer, that’s at the very least something that warrants a modicum of attention.
If it turns into more than that, watch out.