After taking home Rookie of the Year in his first active season in the NBA, Aussie superstar Ben Simmons succeeded again in Year 2.
Simmons averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game on his way to his first-career All-Star selection. His Philadelphia 76ers fell - quite literally - a few bounces away from reaching their first Conference Finals appearance since 2001, but the team reloaded again this summer to make another push for a title.
Along with re-signing Tobias Harris, signing veteran centre Al Horford, landing Josh Richardson in sign-and-trade deal for Jimmy Butler and filling out the roster with quality role players, the 76ers also inked Simmons to a five-year, $170 million max contract extension, handing the keys of the franchise to the 23-year-old guard.
Now that Simmons has his max contract, what can he work on this offseason to take another step and live up to that major deal?
Simmons is a phenomenal playmaker - one of the best in the NBA. Yet he has a tendency to get too passive at times, and the 76ers usually suffer when he does.
Take his first game of the NBA playoffs this past season as an example. Despite Joel Embiid being limited with an injury, Simmons finished with nine field goal attempts for nine points. The 76ers were beaten by the No. 6 seed Brooklyn Nets on their home floor to go down 1-0 in the series.
Simmons had a number of possessions in that game where he had an opportunity to look for his own shot but instead opted to pass, resulting in a turnover, such as this one:
Simmons is a terror for opposing defences in transition. Here, he had the ball on the break with an opportunity to kick things into another gear and blow by 34-year-old Jared Dudley to get to the rack. Instead, he slowed down and allowed both Caris LeVert and DeMarre Carroll to get into a spot where they could help.
Regardless, at 6-foot-10 with the athleticism that Simmons possesses, there is no reason he shouldn't look to score when he's that close to the rim.
In the fourth quarter of the same contest, Simmons made a similar decision in transition:
Again, it was Dudley between Simmons and the hoop. Dudley was backpedaling while Simmons was running downhill, and he decided to try and create a passing lane that wasn't there, resulting in a turnover.
Then there is this play in Game 4 against the Nets, when the 76ers were trailing by six with under seven minutes to go:
Joe Harris got caught up on teammate Spencer Dinwiddie and Simmons had an edge to the hoop. Down the stretch of a big game, you'd want your star player to attack in a moment like this, but Simmons elected to try and kick out to centre Boban Marjanovic on the wing, and threw the ball away. Shot blocker Jarrett Allen was ready to help, but what was Marjanovic going to do should Simmons have delivered the pass on target anyway?
Being more aggressive and attacking on the offensive end isn't a tangible skillset that you can specifically work on - it's more of a mentality. But Simmons will have to find that mindset this offseason, especially with the 76ers being down a primary scorer in Jimmy Butler.
It's clear the 76ers are a better team when Simmons looks for his own shot as much as he looks to create for his teammates. Philly was 6-1 in the playoffs when Simmons took 10 or more shot attempts. When the All-Star guard failed to reach double digit field goal attempts, they were 1-4.
The more he looks for his own shot, the more often opposing defences will have to collapse on him, which in return should open passing lanes where he can showcase his elite playmaking ability.
Even with the lingering questions about his jump shot, Simmons has the tools to become a 20 points per game scorer while still flirting with double digit assists. The moment he looks to score just as often as he looks to pass, he'll make that happen.
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