Philadelphia 76ers third-year guard Ben Simmons is one (very critical) skill away from going down as one of the NBA‘s all-time greats, according to NBA legend and analyst Charles Barkley. The skill that Barkley is referring to comes as no surprise to anyone that has been paying the slightest bit of attention to Simmons since he was selected by the Sixers with the top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
“I’m a big Ben Simmons fan,” Barkley said, via The Athletic. “And I want him to do like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Keep working on his game, become a very good shooter, because if he keeps working on his jump shot, he’s going to be one of the best to ever do it.”
Barkley is far from the first to suggest that the development of a reliable jump shot could catapult Simmons into the pantheon of the game’s greats, but he does happen to be correct. As it stands, Simmons is already excellent – an All-Star – even without a jumper. He’s lethal in the open court and possesses pinpoint, precision passing and uncanny court vision. He’s an excellent rebounder and an above-average defender, with the potential to be an elite one. He’s also an unbelievable athlete with an elevated basketball IQ. He won Rookie of the Year for his play during his first year in the league, and become just the second player in history (Oscar Robertson was the first) to record 1,200 points, 600 rebounds, and 600 assists as a rookie. During his second season he was named to the All-Star team, and he became the second-fastest player to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists. Through his first two seasons, Simmons has compiled more rebounds and assists than LeBron James or Magic Johnson – two players that he is commonly compared to – did during that same span.
But, Simmons has also yet to connect on a single 3-pointer through two seasons of his professional career (he’s 0 for 17 from beyond the arc) in a league that is placing continued importance on the long-ball, and he hasn’t been confident in his own ability to knock shots down, at all. That’s what ultimately needs to change, as a reliable midrange jumper that defenses had to respect would open things up tremendously on the offensive end for Simmons, and in turn for the Sixers.
In short, the development of a jump shot will be difference between an All-Star-level career, and a transcendent superstar, potentially all-time great-level career for Simmons.
The good news for the Sixers, and Philadelphia fans, is that Simmons is well-aware of the need to develop a shot, and he has been putting in work over the offseason.
“He’s in the gym religiously every day, grinding, getting better,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said in July after an extensive workout session with Simmons in L.A. “He’s in great shape … He’s made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good and he has the confidence to shoot … It was a good sight to see.”
Simmons’ former teammate, J.J. Redick – a guy that knows a few things about shooting himself – is confident an outside shot is indeed something that Simmons will be able to add to his repertoire.
“He works. He works,” Redick said of Simmons. “…I think he’ll be able to shoot at some point. A lot of it I think is just is confidence. He can shoot at a high enough clip when he’s shooting spot shots that it should translate at some point to shooting threes in a game.”
Ultimately, Barkley also has faith that Simmons will live up to his lofty potential by expanding his game, and he is bullish on the Sixers heading into the ’19-20 season.
“The Sixers got everything,” Barkley said. “I’m putting my faith in Ben and Joel. Let’s be realistic. The Sixers were probably a bounce of a basketball away from being the champs last year. That ball bounced like 12 times in slow motion. Now, they’re on everybody’s radar. I love the addition of Al Horford. I love the addition of Josh Richardson. The Sixers have everything in place.”
If Simmons is ultimately able to develop a consistent shot, not only will the Sixers probably need to invest in a bigger trophy case, but Simmons will also likely find himself next to Barkley in the Hall of Fame one day.