The shadows are only just starting to lengthen on one of the great rookie campaigns in the history of the NBA, one in which Australian Ben Simmons proved himself a genuine star in the making.
His Philadelphia 76ers may have been dumped 4-1 from the NBA play-offs by the Boston Celtics but already, the question is being asked as to where Simmons can go from here.
The answer for many is “all the way” — to the very summit of the game.
In a golden era of the Australian basketballer, Simmons shines brightest.
In just one season he’s left an indelible mark on the best basketball competition in the world, sitting alongside the likes of legends Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, with his stat-stuffing, first-season feats.
At 21 years old, Simmons can already dominate on the basketball court, thanks to his remarkably rare combination of size, power, athleticism and skill.
He rewrote the record books this season, becoming only the second rookie to record 12 triple doubles — reaching double figures in three key statistical categories during the same game — with breezy regularity.
He is a very poor shooter.
The higher his star has ascended, the greater the media focus in the United States has shifted to a glaring weakness in perhaps the most fundamental part of the game — and the stats don’t lie.
During the regular season, he made just 69 of 224 shots from 10 feet or more away from the basket. In an era dominated by three-point shooters, Simmons attempted just 11 and made none.
His struggles have attracted the attention of former Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant who suggested on radio “aesthetically I would just build that thing [jump shot] anew.”
It’s a testament to Simmons’ talent that he’s been so influential in his first season with such an obvious flaw in his game.
So how is it that Simmons could rise through the junior ranks and the American college system, to become the number one pick in the NBA draft without a functional shot?
Well, he didn’t need one.
As a teenager, Simmons was a prodigious talent. He looked and played like a man among boys, able to get to the hoop at will, finishing with a lay-up or slam dunk.
He was unselfish, using his vision and superior passing skills to set up teammates rather than take shots himself.
Has Simmons been using the wrong hand?
During his one season in college, where Simmons played ostensibly as a power forward, he very rarely ventured far from the basket. He excelled and impressed without his shot being tested.
And now, popular theory is gaining momentum among some in the know: Simmons is shooting with the wrong hand.
At a young age, Simmons developed an ambidextrous game from close to the basket. In many ways it’s an advantage allowing him to finish shots with either hand to avoid defenders.
But it’s led some experts questioning which is his dominant side.
Philadelphia teammate JJ Redick, a renowned sharp-shooter, has already encouraged Simmons to switch hands.
“He seemed open to the idea. I don’t want to mess with him,” Redick told his podcast listeners.
“I also think since I said that to him, which was like October or November, which was the first time I saw him shoot right-handed, he’s gotten better left-handed. So I don’t know if it’s necessary with him.”
“To me he looked like a right hander trying to shoot it left handed,” Gaze told the ABC.
“That’s more a critique of his technique more than it was to say, ‘Should he be shooting it right handed?’ I don’t know.”
Simmons has incredibly high expectations. He wants to be elite. But without a serviceable jump shot, his ability to win a game by his own hand is limited.
It’s an intangible quality that has allowed LeBron James to rise to the top and stay there even at the relatively old age for a basketballer of 34.
Simmons could become a world leader in the sport
James has long served as a mentor to the young Australian and if Simmons is to follow in his footsteps, his shooting will have to significantly improve.
“Being only 21, he’s still relatively young and I think over time he can make some tweaks that can help him,” Gaze said.
So how far can Simmons go if he develops a consistent jumper? According to Gaze, all the way.
“He could be the next marquee player, a leader in the sport,” Gaze said.
“Ben Simmons’ ceiling and realistic potential is to be the greatest in the world.”
In just one season, Simmons exceeded most expectations other than his own.
He led Philadelphia to the play-offs for the first time in six years and was unlucky not to be the first Australian picked for the All-Star game.
Next year, the stakes will be higher for both Simmons and his team.
Improvement will be expected, and the astute NBA coaches will have taken notes on how Boston successfully managed to limit Simmons’ impact at the pointy end of the season as they dumped the 76ers out of the play-offs.
Simmons is now firmly on the rollercoaster of professional sport in the United States, where each up and down is magnified and dissected by America’s sports-mad fans and media.
The pressure will remain intense for the player, but we can all sit back and simply enjoy the ride.
Source: ABC News