On Saturday night, 16,208 people wandered off the strip to the Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center, a single-day NBA Summer League attendance record that easily shattered the old mark of 12,422 attendees.
As anyone there or watching from home can tell you, the main attraction that day was far and away Sixers vs. Lakers, featuring the battle between the top two overall picks in the 2016 NBA draft: Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.
With all due respect to the incredible talent of the former Duke Blue Devil, it’s safe to assume the majority of interest laid in checking out the one-and-done LSU product by way of Australia.
When it comes to Simmons, 6’10” guys who look as smooth handling the ball and finding teammates as someone a foot shorter than them, don’t come around every generation. As rare as that fact is, it’s equally fascinating from a pure basketball standpoint to watch him operate while completely ignoring the outer-arc that has become such a huge part of the game today.
Through 4 summer league games in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, Simmons has averaged 5.3 assists per game without attempting so much as a single three-pointer. Looking at players who have averaged at least 5.0 assists per game with less than 0.1 three point attempts per contest, we see only two instances in this millennium: Joakim Noah in the 2013-14 season with Chicago, and Shaun Livingston in his rookie season with the Clippers in 2004-05.
Plenty more examples were found back in the 20th century when it took a while for the three-point line to become more than a quirky thing the league brought over from the ABA. For those two more recent examples, though, it’s interesting to note that like Simmons, both of those players have incredibly unique skill sets for their position.
Noah is a true big man who has prodigious passing ability hitting cutters from the high post. It will be interesting to see how much he has left in the tank at age 31 because his passing should fit in very nicely with whatever hybrid triangle offense they run over there above Penn Station.
Meanwhile, Livingston is the rare point guard who has eschewed the outside shot nearly altogether. Even the last two seasons with the Splash Family in Golden State, Livingston has only attempted a combined total of 14 threes in the regular season. Perhaps, its not a surprise that he bounced around the league until finding a more permanent home with the Warriors, where they could space the floor around him with two (and now three) of the best shooters of all time.
While it’s not completely unprecedented, a player like Ben Simmons orchestrating so much of the offense while ignoring the three-point line altogether is certainly a rarity in the modern NBA game. Certainly, the rookie is going to spend countless hours in the gym working on that outside shot until a time down far down the road when a three-point shot is at least a small part of his game. Until that day, though, it should be both fun and an intriguing basketball experiment to watch Simmons find ways to be effective without it.