Let’s say you’re a firefighter that’s afraid of heights, an ambulance driver fearful of speed, a doctor that can’t stand blood. You would be very bad at your job if that were the case. What if you were an NBA player that can’t shoot? In 2018 when teams shoot 3-pointers more than any other shot, can you be a decent player? What about a superstar?
These three shot charts (via Basketball reference) are from three players on the same team; one is a point forward, serving as a primary ball handler; one is a point guard with a mystical shoulder injury that messed up his shot, and one is a monster center that destroys people in the post. It’s obvious which is which, right?
The best shooter is Embiid (center), followed by the weird shot of Fultz (point guard) and then we have Ben Simmons, the primary ball handler. The star point forward has yet to make a single shot outside of the paint; he missed all seven that were (barely) outside of it. Embiid’s shot chart is becoming quite normal for big men, as more and more of them shoot threes regularly. Fultz with all the drama is slowly making shots. Simmons is not.
Simmons is a fantastic player with spectacular court vision, an amazing handle for a player of his size, high-speed and athletic. But. Can he be a superstar player, championship caliber if this is his shot chart? I suspect not. While this may work in the regular season and against the Hawks or Suns, playoff basketball against the Celtics or Raptors is a whole different game. Last night Kawhi kept him at 11 points and 11 turnovers. That’s what he is looking at against elite defenders and defensive teams. When you have such a liability, it makes you predictable, and that’s where great defensive teams feast.
Many believe that Simmons is shooting with the wrong hand, most notably Kevin O’Connor from The Ringer, who wrote about it here and here. There is something to it as he uses both hands on the court and has much better stats when using his right hand. If O’Connor is just a ”blog boy” who never played the game, maybe his teammate, 6th on the list of all players that attempted over 2500 threes with 41.5% made (via Basketball reference), J.J. Redick could convince him. Redick commented on Ben’s shooting on his podcasts’ mailbag episode “I think Ben’s form left-handed is worse than his form right-handed.”
Nowadays teams can afford one non-shooter on the court at most (even that is becoming more and more questionable). While Embiid can make threes, he would need to become much better to make Simmons the only non-shooter on the team. But even then, you would turn a monster in the post into an at-best a decent 3-point shooter. Fultz is a work in progress and who knows how that story will end. If the Sixers want to be the dominating force in the East and in the league they proclaim, Simmons has to find (at least) a decent shot. It will likely come from his right hand.