When Ben Simmons finally sank his first NBA triple in a meaningless regular season game against the New York Knicks on November 21, 2019, the roar was deafening.
Philly’s commentary team was in second gear as Simmons and the 76ers were in the process of defeating the hapless New York Knicks, until the 23-year-old hoisted the now infamous shot.
“There’s Simmons...YES! He did it! Hold me back fam!” was the call from the booth.
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It was as though he’d hit a game winner. The score was 10-11 with just over eight minutes to play in the first quarter.
Simmons’ shooting was the biggest talking point entering the season for a Philadelphia 76ers team that made wholesale changes following the departure of Jimmy Butler, who they swung a mid-season trade for just months prior.
All the speculation was for good reason - Simmons is arguably the 76ers’ best player, but their ceiling will be capped if he isn’t able to even take shots, let alone make them.
For all his passing skill, his overwhelming size and speed and his good defensive instincts, Simmons’ game won’t be fully complete until he can shoot - at least a bit. Nobody expects him to be Steph Curry.
They should expect him to be Pascal Siakam.
The Toronto Raptors star is in line to make his first All-Star appearance this season, after a breakout season in 2018/19 which culminated in a championship and winning the Most Improved award.
If you could redo the 2016 NBA draft, where would you feel comfortable selecting Pascal Siakam (27th originally)???— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) October 19, 2019
Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Jaylen Brown were the top-3, with Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, and Malcolm Brogdon taken later.
Simmons and Siakam were drafted in the same year - the former a high-profile number one pick, the latter arguably the steal of what was a ludicrously loaded draft. Right now, there is a strong case to be made for Siakam being the best player among the group including Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis.
Siakam’s slow build the ideal starting point for Simmons
While Simmons won Rookie of the Year and was an instant star when he entered the league, Siakam’s early years in the NBA were more of a slow burn. He averaged just 4.2 points in his rookie year, in just 15 minutes per contest as he was shuffled between the G-League and the NBA. He barely took a shot from three all season.
Siakam’s second year was better, but certainly nothing to write home about. He improved to 20 minutes per game, averaged seven points and shot at least one three per game - hitting at an abysmal 22 per cent.
Crucially though, the Raptors didn’t give up on the 27th pick in the 2016 draft. Instead, the Raptors got smart. Again, Siakam’s minutes, points per game and threes attempted per game increased in the 2017/18 season. Typically, the triples Siakam took were open looks from the corner - generally considered the easiest long ball to hit.
Per Basketball Reference, the majority of his three-pointers came in the corners, and just over 90% of them were assisted. Almost all of his three-point attempts were classified as open or wide open, and he almost never took a dribble before shooting.
This is the blueprint the 76ers must follow with Ben Simmons. Brett Brown has already alluded to this, insisting he would make Simmons take at least one three per game. The Sixers would be well served by running specific plays to get Simmons an open corner three, even if it is just once per game.
It’s unfair to make a direct comparison between the two, considering Siakam came into the league as more or less an unknown quantity, and was able to work on his shot in the relative obscurity of the Toronto bench in his first two seasons. Then assistant and now Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who coached Siakam in the G-League as well, boasts a record as one of the best development coaches in the league.
That the spotlight on Simmons is significantly brighter should be no reason not to pursue this as a project. Until Simmons becomes an elite player outside of transition opportunities, as Jared Dudley infamously alluded to during last season’s playoffs, he and the 76ers will always have a hard ceiling on their success.
It’s on Simmons to break through.