Ben Simmons' continued aversion to shooting outside of the paint an early concern for 76ers

The 2019-20 NBA season has been in full swing for a couple of weeks now, which may not be long enough to make any sweeping generalizations about teams or players. Still, it has provided a big enough sample size to take a look at some early season trends. One glaring takeaway for the 76ers is that Ben Simmons, despite all the major work he put in over the offseason, is still not taking -- let alone making -- shots outside of the painted area, which is a cause for concern for Philadelphia. 

The importance of Simmons developing some semblance of a jump shot in order for him to reach his full potential as a player, and for the Sixers to reach their full potential as a team, has been well documented by myself and others. Although Simmons proved that he is indeed capable of putting the ball through the basket from behind the 3-point line during the preseason, that shot now amounts to a tease as he has yet to show any development in that area of his game since the regular season started. 

Out of the 77 shots that Simmons took through Philadelphia's first six games, only three of them came from outside 10 feet, and he missed all three of those shots. He took 18 shots from 5-9 feet and made just five of those, while the vast majority of his attempts have come directly at the rim. He hasn't attempted a single 3. If you think that sounds bad, well, it looks even more jarring in chart form: 

The optics are bad, but even more concerning than the fact that Simmons isn't making -- or taking -- shots from outside of the paint early in the season is that he's not even considering it. Even a casual basketball observer can notice when a player takes a split second after receiving a pass to to process the play and ponder if they should shoot. "He thought about it," announcers will often say. Simmons doesn't do that, even as defenses continue to give him ample space for attempts. The second he touches the ball, his brain immediately goes to "dribble" or "pass" as they have been his natural instincts out on the court throughout his life. It will take a whole lot of work, and repetition, for Simmons to train himself to incorporate shooting as a natural instinct, too. The hope was that maybe he had done that over the summer, but his instincts when it comes to shooting at this point in the season appear exactly the same as they have in the past. 

Simmons' hesitancy comes despite the fact that Brett Brown and the coaching staff is actively encouraging him to shoot. This isn't a situation where Simmons is being encouraged to just stick to his strengths. Prior to the season's start, Brown said that the Sixers would put Simmons in the corners when he's off of the ball, rather than in the post as they have in the past, in an effort to encourage him to space the floor

"You're not going to see me put him down there at the start of the year," Brown said in September. "I want to give him a chance to be spaced. You're probably going to see him in one of the corners, but I'm going to start there. We're going to encourage him to shoot 3s, and we're going to encourage him ... if he sees a straight-line drive, take off and eat it up. I think I can help him use the space in both of those ways."  

Simmons is so naturally talented that he can still be extremely effective and productive on most nights without spacing the floor at all. His natural size and strength helps here, too, as he is often able to simply overpower smaller guards in order to get into the paint, and to the rim. This was largely the case over the first five games of the season for the Sixers -- all wins. However, as we've seen in the past, especially in the postseason, teams with the proper personnel can scheme to stop Simmons' drives and thus severely limit his overall effectiveness. This happened in Phoenix on Monday night, when the Suns had center Aron Baynes guard Simmons for large chunks of the contest. Simmons was unable to physically overpower Baynes, and as a result he finished the contest with a paltry six points on 2-for-8 shooting from the floor. It wasn't a coincidence that the Sixers went on the lose the game. 

The performance was a sobering one for Sixers fans who had hoped that Simmons' shooting struggles were behind him, or that he was at least better equipped with counters when his driving lanes were taken away. Clearly, he still has a long way to go. The bar is low, though. The Sixers don't need Simmons to morph into Kevin Durant. They just need him to be comfortable taking the shots, and when that's the case, some will drop. Think Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, as he has a game similar to Simmons'. 

Like Simmons, Antetokounmpo isn't a natural shooter, but he's worked to incorporate it into his game after realizing that having defenses react to him on the perimeter helps to open up things on the offensive end for the Bucks. Last season, Giannis attempted 203 3s and connected on 52 of them -- both career highs. There's no reason that Simmons couldn't see similar development, he just has to be willing to step out of his comfort zone. 

The good news for Simmons and the Sixers is that the season is still (very) young, so it's not yet time to sound the alarm. Simmons has ample opportunity left to prove to the league that he can make defenses pay for sagging off of him before the Sixers make their postseason push. The bad news, though, is that the early returns haven't been especially promising. 

Michael Kaskey-Blomain covers the NBA for CBS Sports. He has covered the league in some capacity since 2009 for a variety of outlets including, ESPN 97.3, and 247 Sports. Michael hails from... Full Bio

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