Sports

Prominent NBA figures leap to Simmons’ defence

Former NBA head coaches Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy have leapt to the defence of Ben Simmons and hit back at critics who dwell on his reluctance to shoot from long range.

Jackson and Van Gundy point to the talent, athleticism and huge upside the 208cm tall point guard-forward offers the Philadelphia 76ers, rather than his lack of shooting outside the key.

Simmons, 22, won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award last season with extraordinary regular season averages of 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists.

Shooting blues: NBA pundits are keen to focus on Ben Simmons' positives at this early stage of his career.

Shooting blues: NBA pundits are keen to focus on Ben Simmons' positives at this early stage of his career.Credit:AP

"He has shown an incredible commitment to competing at a high level and I'm sure he is going to become a better shooter," former Golden State Warriors coach Jackson said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

"I think you can nit pick as a coach and fan about what a guy can't do, as opposed to looking at the great way he impacts the game and puts you in a position to win night in and night out, so I wouldn't overreact to it."

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Jackson and Van Gundy return as key members of ESPN's NBA TV broadcast team for the coming season, which begins on Wednesday with the 76ers facing Aron Baynes' Celtics in Boston.

Simmons made just 11 three-point attempts last season and missed all of them.

His physical skills allowed him to regularly slash to the basket, however, with almost half of the shots (402 of 998) he took coming from less than 1.5 metres from the hoop.

Simmons only took 57 field goal attempts of 4.6 metres or longer and nine of them were last-second heaves from 10.7 metres or beyond.

The youngster says he is working on his shot and 76ers coach Brett Brown is more concerned about the Australian improving his poor 56 per cent free throw percentage.

"Everyone wants to focus on what Ben Simmons can't do which is shoot and try to rush him into being a range shooter," Van Gundy said.

"I think Simmons in Philadelphia has done a good job in focusing what he does great versus what he doesn't do as well."

Aussie connection: Jackson (second right) coached Andrew Bogut and the Warriors before going into broadcasting.

Aussie connection: Jackson (second right) coached Andrew Bogut and the Warriors before going into broadcasting.Credit:AP

The Sixers' opening night foes, the Celtics and their head coach Brad Stevens, knocked Simmons' side out of the play-offs last season by exposing the Australian's reluctance to shoot.

"That team was a call away from winning on the road in the play-offs," Jackson, defending the 76ers, said.

The two broadcasters and former coaches also offered glowing assessments of Australian Utah Jazz duo Joe Ingles and Dante Exum.

Van Gundy rates the Jazz as the third best team in the highly-competitive Western Conference.

"I love Joe Ingles," Van Gundy said.

"I think Joe Ingles is a tremendous glue player, terrific shooter, passer, defender."

Exum has been dogged by injuries since the Jazz drafted him in 2014 and both experts said health will again be the key for the 23-year-old.

AAP

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