If you’re even somewhat familiar with Ben Simmons, you probably know these two things about him — he is prodigiously talented, perhaps more so than any male Australian basketballer in history, but he can’t shoot.
It’s been the elephant in the room of his fledgling career so far, the one thing that was likely to stop this NBA Rising Star winner from reaching the very top of the game. Simmons can do pretty much everything, but the one thing he can’t is fairly important, and it alone had experts doubting just how high his ceiling was.
But with one casual jumper in a largely pointless preseason match between his Philadelphia 76ers and the Guangzhou Long-Lions, Simmons might have flipped the conversation on its head.
That’s right, Ben Simmons just hit a three.
First, the disclaimers: The shot was made while the Sixers were up 79-41 just before half-time, in an entirely pressure-free preseason game against a Chinese team. And it’s just one shot.
But the reaction, both from Simmons’ teammates and the entire internet, proves this is more than your average three-pointer. For one, it’s the first that Simmons has made in an actual NBA-aligned game.
Through the first two years of his career, Simmons’ jump shot has been so shaky he has barely even tried to shoot from range — he attempted 18 three-pointers in 182 games, and didn’t make a single one of them.
It doesn’t take an expert to realise that’s a problem for a player with designs on eventually becoming a genuine MVP candidate.
Defenders were happy to give Simmons all the space he needed outside the arc, safe in the knowledge he would never hurt them, making it much easier to stop the fearsome drives and elite creativity that made him such a top prospect.
Simmons’s issues also spelled trouble for the Sixers, who by the time the playoffs arrived had basically given up on using the Aussie on offence.
They were good enough to push eventual champion Toronto to a game seven — and were even one incredible Kahwi Leonard shot away from beating the Raptors — but question marks remained as to how Simmons would fit into the title-chasing team if his limitations remained.
And so, the 23-year-old spent his off-season working on his weakness. The standard workout videos emerged on social media of Simmons knocking down threes and pull-up jumpers in the gym, and coach Brett Brown said he would even start to use him in positions where he would be called upon to shoot more often.
Simmons himself would have known the talk and training would count for little until the improvement manifested on the court. Which is why, with a small handful of seconds left on the clock in the second quarter of a preseason game most of the world didn’t even know was on, and with almost his entire team willing him on, Simmons jacked one up.
And wouldn’t you know it? It went in.
It could mean absolutely nothing if he bricks the first five he tries in the regular season and goes back into his shell. Or it could be the start of a swell in confidence and a honing of technique that adds a new dimension to the game of one of the most unique players in the NBA.
If defenders have to be even 5 per cent more cautious of leaving Simmons space outside, it makes it 5 per cent easier for him to use his explosive pace to blow by them to dunk, or creates 5 per cent more space for a teammate to receive another laser Simmons pass.
But if nothing else, it was just fun to watch. If only for a day, Simmons has flipped the meme on its head and is the toast of the NBA. If it leads to something bigger, so much the better.