Ben Simmons’ Unconventional Dominance
On June 25th, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons will potentially become the first NBA Rookie of the Year to win the award without making a 3-point attempt since Emeka Okafor in the 2004-05 season. While this has happened nine times since the 3-point line was introduced in 1979, all those players have played at the power forward or center position. This season, Simmons logged 74% of his playing time at point guard and 26% at shooting guard (Basketball Reference). However, Simmons is no conventional point guard. At 6’10”, 230 pounds, his measurements are more in line with the prototypical power forward.
In the modern NBA, it’s almost unfathomable for a point guard to shoot as poorly as Simmons, become the first overall pick out of college, and succeed to the extent he has in his rookie year. He attempted 11 3-pointers, but all came with less than four seconds left on the shot clock and 8 were from beyond half court. Despite a jump shot that does not extend anywhere near the 3-point line, Simmons has found success in the exceedingly “3s and layups” driven NBA. Even though defenders play off Simmons to allow themselves more time to recover if they are beat by him, or to help on his teammates, his playmaking and shot creation abilities are on par with many of the best guards in the NBA.
Not only is Simmons not shooting 3-pointers, his shot attempts are not coming anywhere close to the 3-point line. His average shot distance (ASD) of 5.76 feet ranks 448 out of the 522 NBA players to attempt a shot in the 2017-18 season. What sets Simmons apart, is that he functions as a guard in the 76ers system, all the while having his ASD among the likes of forward/centers Jusuf Nurkic (6.11 ft), Emeka Okafor (5.67 ft), and Hassan Whiteside (5.64 ft) (NBA Miner). Among players with an ASD less than 6 feet, Simmons shows an ability to make plays for his teammates unlike any other player in this group, illustrated by his high assist totals.
Shot Creation Ability
In addition to making plays for his teammates, Simmons also demonstrated an ability to create shot opportunities for himself. One way this can be measured is assisted field goals made (AFGM), which gives the percentage of made field goals that come off an assist. A low AFGM indicates that the player excels in isolation situations, is a gifted individual scorer, and is often the primary ball handler. This statistic is usually dominated by guards and some of the lowest AFGM percentages come from some of the best scorers in the league: Chris Paul (14.6%), James Harden (17.5%), John Wall (19.9%), and Russell Westbrook (20.3%). Simmons’ rate of 34.3% falls between Kyrie Irving (34.6%) and CJ McCollum (33.8%). The first power forward/center on this list is Blake Griffin at 47.6%, who often serves as a point-forward in his offense (NBA Miner). With the body measurements of a power forward, Simmons demonstrated the ability to create his own shot on the same level as many of the top guards in the NBA.
77 NBA players had an AFGM of less than 45% while playing more than 15 minutes per game, and Simmons has a significantly lower average shot distance than the average player in the sample. The five lowest in this sample are pictured in the table. This sample also follows a normal distribution, shown by the boxplot and histogram.
For this sample of data, Simmons observation of 5.76 ft has a test statistic of -3.06 and a p-value of 0.002, indicating a statistically significant result at the .01 level of significance. Simmons average shot distance is significantly less than other players who have less than 45% of their made field goals come off an assist. He is better at scoring unassisted field goals at the rim, with no threat of a jump shot, than any other player in the league.
In his rookie year, Simmons showcased a unique combination of playmaking and shot creation ability not seen from players with his limited shooting capabilities and physical profile. Instead of creating his field goals on long jump shots, Simmons only attempts shots directly at the rim, which often have the highest percentage of being made. While most players that shoot this close to the rim require an assist to score, Simmons excels in making his own scoring opportunities. No other player in the NBA is less of a threat from the perimeter, but more effective at generating offense for himself and his teammates.
Player Shot Distances. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from http://www.nbaminer.com/player-shot-distances/ [link broken as of 6/25/2018]
Ben Simmons Stats. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html
NBA & ABA Rookie of the Year Award Winners. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/roy.html
About the Author
Nick Tice is a rising junior at the University of South Carolina double majoring in Statistics and Sports Management. He is looking to pursue a career in the NBA after graduation.