Ben Simmons is a dazzling ambidextrous playmaker with the size of a forward and the quickness of a guard. The LSU forward is putting up astronomical numbers as a freshman, but his debut season of college basketball has also underlined some holes in his game.
One frequently cited weakness is Simmons' shaky jump shot, which he shoots with his left hand. But he's an outstanding finisher near the rim, where he primarily uses his right hand. Simmons acknowledged the disparity, saying "I think I was supposed to be right-handed," but "it's all natural now."
Is it really "natural" though? NBA scouts have long questioned Simmons' true handedness, so to add clarity to this mystery I've been tracking his shots over the course of the season to find out which hand he prefers using to release the ball on every other type of shot besides jumpers. Here are the jarring results:
Simmons has attempted 265 non-jumpers so far this year. Despite being a left-handed shooter, only 10 of his non-jumpers were released with his left hand, 39 were with both hands, and 216 were with his right hand.
This outcome was checked against a random selection of 150 non-jumpers taken by left-handed NBA players, and those results were virtually flipped.
You'd think Simmons was a righty if you never saw him shoot a jumper or free throw. When watching the film it's even more apparent that he instinctively goes to his right.
Simmons' quickness is overwhelming in all three clips above, but notice how he leaps off his right foot for each chance at the rim. Usually players will finish with the opposite hand of their planted foot, but Simmons instinctively uses his right.
When you watch lefties like James Harden, you will see they'll typically finish left in similar situations since it's more natural. But this has happened time and time again to Simmons whether he's open or contested, or going for a dunk or a layup; only about three percent of his layups and dunks came off his left hand, with nearly 75 percent using his right.
Sometimes it gets Simmons into trouble, like it does in the clip above, where a lurking shot blocker disturbs the right-handed layup/runner. If Simmons went off the glass with his left, the ball likely would've been far enough away to score with ease.
This also occurs on the post, where Simmons' only lefty attempts have been the rare turnaround jumper or layup.
Simmons is a potential mismatch nightmare on the post, considering his unique combination of size, speed and fluidity. But his preference to go right is again apparent in the clips above. Against Kentucky and Ole Miss, Simmons is in position to use a left hook, but he doesn't have it in his repertoire, so he forces shots with his right. However, he frequently and effectively uses right hooks, like he does in the play against Georgia.
Simmons also features the ability to score about five feet from the basket using floaters and runners. On those attempts, he shoots a terrific 51.2 percent on right-handed floaters, but has missed all four tries with his left.
The Australian native really does has soft touch with his right, and his excellent body control allows him to score from different angles, even when he's under pressure. But sometimes overusing righty floaters leaves him prone to getting blocked.
Advance scouting in the NBA will reveal to players that he's actually a right-hand dominant player on the low post and on drives, which could limit his supremacy unless he, ironically, starts using his left more often.
But Simmons still shoots left-handed jumpers. He's hit just 12 of his 35 jump shots, and often appears reluctant to pull the trigger even when defenses dare him to do so.
College defenders already know he's not able to make jumpers consistently, and so will NBA defenders. They'll sag off, which could limit his ability to drive and be a playmaker. It might also hinder the team's overall spacing until he proves he's a threat.
Simmons has started to use the hop to get his shots off more quickly, but his mechanics are still extremely inconsistent. Sometimes he sways his feet forward, but other times he doesn't. He also elevates differently each time and tends to release on the way down.
There are some additional issues that are only revealed when taking a closer look at his free-throw mechanics.
Simmons starts the ball over his right knee and brings it up over his right shoulder, which is relatively uncommon for a left-handed player. The majority of players keep the ball aligned with the same side of their shot throughout their motion, so in Simmons' case you'd expect it to be towards the left, or at least the center.
It's not until Simmons brings the ball above his head and gets his hand underneath that it's centered. But it's slanted at an angle as he releases, with his elbow protruding slightly out. Even after a flick of the wrist, he doesn't hold his follow through.
At 69.4 percent from the line, Simmons is no Shaq. He's ambidextrous, after all, so it's not like he's incapable of shooting lefty. But it's the process and data that reveals why his shooting results are subpar, when many other areas of his game are elite.
Tristan Thompson made the unprecedented switch to shooting right-handed in 2013, and maybe Simmons should consider doing the same. While Simmons' left-handed jumper form is awkward, and he's had miniscule shooting success, he has displayed superb touch with his right hand on layups and floaters. "He simply looks like a righty trying to shoot lefty," one Western Conference scout told SB Nation, "and he's capable of switching."
It's not that Simmons can't improve at shooting lefty, since even without a reliable jumper he is a tremendous prospect. But he'd be transcendent if he were already a perimeter scoring threat. Both the data and film suggest it's plausible that switching to his right hand for jumpers would be worth experimenting with.
If Ben Simmons is as ambidextrous as he appears, then a switch should come naturally.