Almanac Basketball: 76ers need to move on from Ben Simmons

Australian NBA export Ben Simmons is not the transformational superstar we thought he was…yet. In fact, the Philadelphia 76ers need to trade him if they want to win the championship.


Simmons arrival to the NBA was highly anticipated and his debut season was jaw-dropping, exceeding all expectations. The 208cm point guard showcased incredible court vision with flashy passes, producing highlights on a nightly basis. Simmons game garnered comparison to some legendary players. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith stated, “[Simmons is] a jump shot away from being LeBron [James] part two” and Dan Patrick from the Dan Patrick show claimed, “…we have the next Magic [Johnson].”


Simmons won the 2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year Award convincingly, amassing 90 of 101 1st place votes. ESPN’s annual player rankings listed Simmons as the 18th best player in the league after his first season and the following year he was voted an all-star, meaning yes, Simmons had dethroned beloved Boomer, Andrew Bogut, as our greatest Australian basketballer. The sky was the limit for our budding superstar, who recently put pen-to-paper on a 5-year $170m contract extension presented by the 76ers.


Eighteen months on from being named Rookie of the Year, the honeymoon period has ended. Simmons has become arguably the most scrutinised star in the league (outside of Houston Rocket’s Russell Westbrook, maybe) showing little to no development in his offensive skillset since his debut season. Simmons’ major flaw is his defective jump shot. A jump shot is a shot attempted by jumping vertically and releasing the ball with one or both hands at the peak of the jump. Simmons continues to work on his jump shot mechanics, but his confidence may be rocked, potentially causing ongoing damage to his jump shot after being an international talking point for years. Former NBA assistant coach, Dr. Hal Wissel once stated, “[jump] shooting is much more than good mechanics. It’s the feeling, thoughts and belief in yourself that comes first.”


Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot has been accentuated by opponents who refuse to guard him outside of the paint. This creates a domino effect, essentially becoming five defenders guarding four offensive players, making it tough to initiate offense for the 76ers. Evidently, their offensive rating currently ranks a subpar 17th in the NBA. For a star-studded team with championship aspirations, that’s a major concern and Simmons inability to shoot is at the forefront of it.


If you’ve ever had a conversation about Simmons for more than 30 seconds, there’s about a 99% chance his jump shot was discussed (…and probably mocked). It’s the glaring deficiency of the 76ers. Strangely enough, instead of downplaying the incessant questioning and ridicule, fuel was added to the fire this offseason when multiple videos surfaced of Simmons’ making jump shots in scrimmages. Teammate Tobias Harris reinforced our shared optimism, speaking on Simmons noticeable improvement. “I dared him to shoot two [three-point shots], he hit two in a row…His jump shot is looking really good and he has the confidence to shoot.” Weeks later in a pre-season game against the Guangzhou Loong Lions, Simmons made a three-point basket and the basketball world exploded. Was this the beginning of things to come?


Hardly. Simmons remains reluctant to shoot at all despite teasing us in the lead-up to the season. For comparison, here are two fellow all-star guards shot charts this season to date. The dots on the chart represent the players field goal attempts.


Damian Lillard:


(Damian Lillard shot chart /


Another all-star guard facing critique on his shooting form, Russell Westbrook:


(Russell Westbrook shot chart /


Ben Simmons:

(Ben Simmons shot chart /


Simmons takes an astounding 92.7% of his field goal attempts within three metres of the basket, whereas Westbrook (43.3%) and Lillard (38.2%) represent how guards are encouraged to play in the modern era. Long-range shooting expectations arose when analysts discovered that three-point shots are more valuable than two-point shots (it sounds blatantly obvious, but the three-point shot was a gimmick for years and barely a point of emphasis in game planning. Legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once stated, “I’ll never embrace it…I don’t think it’s basketball.”) This past decade, however, three-point shooting rates have risen to a point where it’s no longer a luxury to have long-range shooters, it’s a necessity.


(Kirk Goldsberry /


So, Simmons can’t shoot, is it that big of a deal? Well, as a 23-year old in only his third season with plenty of room for growth, no, not necessarily. He’s still a remarkable player who can bring many things to the floor like his ability to run the break, his elite court vision and passing skills, his strength, speed and size for his position, not to mention his defensive versatility, establishing him as an early candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.


What makes Simmons shooting woes so troublesome is the structure of the 76ers roster.


Simmons situation in Philadelphia is detrimental to his game. Surrounded by stars who are overqualified to stand around for catch and shoot opportunities, Simmons often has to defer, leading to awkward stretches standing around watching on, offering practically no assistance unless he can receive a last-second handoff for a dunk, or wait to fight for a rebound. In fact, Simmons has the lowest usage rate of the 76ers starters and ranks 96th in usage rate among all NBA starters. What a waste. His talents are being underutilised while his flaws are highlighted under the microscope of playing for a contender.


A team built around Simmons and his skillset would ideally be Simmons controlling the ball most possessions, surrounded by four capable shooters to space the floor. This would give Simmons room to make plays towards the basket, and if defenders help clog the paint, he can kick out to whoever is open to shoot. It’s a proven formula for success. Cleveland’s 2016 championship team followed this formula with LeBron James and we’re seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks (currently 20-3) thrive using this system.


It’s just a bad marriage in Philadelphia. The 76ers are great, Ben Simmons is great – but as constructed, it’s not meant to be. Their championship window is ajar, they don’t have time to remain patient with Simmons. Trade suitors will come flocking if he’s made available, expecting him to flourish in another system. It’s time for change.



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  1. Welcome to the Almanac Mark. Interesting idea. What was Simmons shooting record like as a junior player. Has he got technique flaws or is he overawed/intimidated by the situation?

    Nice piece.

  2. G’day Mark.

    What’s a triple-double?

  3. MarkMiller93 says

    Thanks John.
    He was never regarded as a good shooter, but he did shoot much more often than he does in the NBA. For reference, across his 29 game high school career, he attempted 51 three-point attempts. In his 182 game NBA career, he has attempted only 21. His old high school coach swears he once had a reliable jump shot, claiming someone has “changed his mechanics” since.

    Some analysts like ESPN’s Jalen Rose believe the issue is Simmons is shooting with the wrong hand.
    “When it’s contested and he’s going to the basket, he shoots with his right hand. That lets me know. When it’s 18 seconds and he gets an offensive rebound, you’re under duress, you’re going to go to your strength. He shoots with his right hand. But when he goes to the free throw line, he’s shooting with his left hand. I think that’s something that has to get corrected.”

    It’s pretty confusing for everyone.

  4. MarkMiller93 says

    Hey Dips.

    In basketball there are five statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) that a player can accumulate throughout the course of a game. A triple-double is when a player accumulates a double-digit total in three of the five categories in a single game. Usually a triple-double is achieved with points, rebounds and assists (it is very rare to see anyone amass a total of 10 steals or blocks in a single game).

    Triple-doubles are impressive, as it shows a player has been highly influential in multiple aspects of the game, but the specific number itself is somewhat arbitrary. (A 10 point, 10 rebound, 10 assist statline will make headlines, whereas a 25 point, 9 rebound, 9 assist game likely won’t…It’s a bit ridiculous).

  5. I’d be fascinated who you think the 76ers could potentially trade in for Simmons – giving up a 6’9″ point defensive beast and play-maker is a hell of a play for a team to make.

    Plus, Simmons signed a $170 million max-extension this year, so no-one can afford him who is a contender – and I don’t think he’d be overly excited to sign for a lowly team, say, a basket-case of a team like the Knicks.

  6. G’Day Mark,

    Really looking forward to some NBA reading on the Almanac!

    I’m fascinated by your idea that the Sixers need to move on when you’re only talking about the fact that Simmons is causing their team issues at one end of the court. Indeed, at the other end of the court, you’re saying that he’s an early candidate for the DPOY award. I’m fascinated by this aspect of basketball analysis – offense is easier to quantify, while it’s harder to really feel like you can make an educated call as to just how much a defensive superstar is helping their team. This is often true in other sports too, of course – just look at how few votes backs earn each year in the Brownlow or any other AFL-related voting system. But – to state the obvious – defense is half of the game…

    I guess what I’m saying is that if Simmons’ offensive skills and defensive skills were swapped around, wouldn’t the league be considering him as an absolute superstar, kinda like Luka Doncic, perhaps? And shouldn’t a player’s defensive skills be valued more highly?

  7. MarkMiller93 says

    Hey Sam,

    It would be a blockbuster trade, for sure. On paper without context, it’s likely the 76ers would be viewed as the “loser” of the deal as Simmons is already a special player with a high ceiling.
    You’re right, it would be tough for any contender to trade for him. However, Simmons doesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has no power in potential trades. He’s still very young, playing in a system built around him (even if it’s a bad team) may be better for him at this point in his career for his overall development. He could trial new moves, and of course shoot more jump shots in-game more often on a “bad” team, as the franchise probably wouldn’t be desperate for wins like Philadelphia are at this point in time.

    The candidate I like for a Simmons trade is Washington’s Bradley Beal.
    The Washington Wizards are likely to be a subpar basketball team for quite some time. Approximately 40% of their salary cap is being taken up over the next 4 seasons by a 29-year-old who won’t play all season due to a torn achilles (the toughest injury to come back from in basketball). Beal, 26, has two years remaining on his contract and, unless he values extra money over winning, could very well leave Washington once its expired, leaving them with nothing in return.
    Simmons 5-year contract extension begins next season, meaning the Wizards could have Simmons until the 2025-26 season at a minimum, giving them plenty of time to build a competent team around him.
    Beal’s playmaking and scoring abilities would suit Philadelphia seamlessly. An array of scorers and shooters would make them deadly and very unpredictable.

  8. MarkMiller93 says

    Hi Edward,

    Thanks for the response!
    Yes, you’re right. If defense was valued as highly as offense in the league, he’d be an absolute stud. It’s so rare to have a player quick and smart enough to go step for step with guards dancing around the perimeter, and tall and strong enough to match up against forwards and centres bullying their way to the rim. You can play Simmons on almost anyone and he’ll do a good job. What’s been especially impressive is his awareness this season. He currently leads the NBA in steals per game (2.3) and ranks second in deflections per game (4.1). He anticipates passes extremely well, constantly looking for the interception which can lead to easy baskets for the 76ers.

    You asked whether player’s defensive skills should be valued more highly. They should… But the NBA decided in the early 2000s that great offense is more fun to watch than great defense, it’s easier to sell. So rules were implemented including the 3-second defensive violation, where a defender can’t spend more than three consecutive seconds in the key (this makes it easier for the offensive team to get to the basket). The NBA also implemented hand-checking and body-checking. This means defenders can’t use their hands, arms or any part of their body to affect their opponents movement in any way. It makes it extremely tough to play lock-down defense without giving away fouls, it’s like defenders are walking on eggshells sometimes. As great as a defensive player is, if they’re matched up against an offensive superstar, they may make it tough for their opponent to score, but the superstar is more often than not likely to get his points. You’ll often hear many superstars in the NBA get referred to as “unguardable”, and it’s kind of true.

    Having said all that, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate is special and you may think giving that away is crazy. The 76ers greatest strength right now is their defense and I’m convinced they’d still be a great defensive team without Simmons. The other four starting 76ers are all above-average defensive players. Joel Embiid is considered one of the best defenders in the league, Al Horford recently made the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2018, Josh Richardson guarded oppositions best guards when in Miami and Tobias Harris showed much improvement during their team’s playoff run last season (not to mention Thybulle and Scott off the bench).

    Surrounded by other exceptional defenders creates greater pressure all-round, and this has likely helped Simmons defensive numbers. If there were several subpar defenders alongside Simmons, opposition players would likely swing the ball away from Simmons and attack weaker defenders, making Simmons’ impact less prominent. Think of it like in cricket; if you’re batting and Glenn McGrath’s throwing them down at one end, then Shane Warne’s rolling them over at the other end, you’re under constant pressure and more likely to make an error than say, if it were Glenn McGrath and Ricky Ponting sharing a spell.

  9. Yeah…really interesting stuff, Mark – can’t wait to read more over the coming months!

    Our quick discussion here reminded me of this – a great piece on the kid who I think is as intriguing a player as the league has at the moment: Cheers!

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