Jonathon Simmons - Another NBA Role Player in the CBA

Liaoning has signed a second import, Jonathon Simmons.  Simmons most recently played as a backup in the NBA during the 18-19 season for the Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers.  During 19-20 he played 5 games in the NBA GLeague for the Golden State Warriors affiliate team.  So many fans may be wondering “What type of player is Jonathon Simmons?”.  Most CBA Import guards operate as the focal point and initiator of the team offense, and thus function heavily in Pick and Roll and Isolation situations to either create shots for themselves or open scoring opportunities for their teammates But Liaoning has the best domestic guards in the league in Guo Ailun and Zhao Jiwei. Guo is the most ball dominant Chinese player, and the Liaoning offense primarily flows through him. Because of this, in Liaoning import guards are expected to operate off the ball more than they do for other teams and be a reliable 3-point threat .

This is illustrated clearly by former Liaoning import Lester Hudson. While playing for Liaoning Lester Hudson balanced a mix of ball handling responsibilities with operating off ball. 27% of his possessions came in Pick and Roll and Isolation, while 27% came from shooting or driving off of the catch. Since joining Shandong, his ball dominant possessions increased from 27% to 44% while shooting and driving off the catch decreased from 27% to 15%. Simply put, Lester had nearly doubled his ball dominant scoring opportunities since leaving Liaoning while his scoring opportunities off the catch simultaneously decreased by half, which clearly proves that Guo Ailun and Zhao Jiwei are the reason Liaoning has their imports play a different role.

OJ Mayo is capable of playing in the same mold as Lester and has been the perfect compliment to Guo and Zhao. Similar to Hudson, he has averaged around 30% of his possessions in catch and shoot or catch and drive situations. His offense coming from PNR and Isolation situations was also similar to Hudson last season at 25%, while more often playing off the ball and taking spot up 3s, which is his strength.

Before the Coronavirus hiatus last season, Liaoning had been playing with NBA small forward Lance Stephenson. Stephenson had operated the ball screen at a similar rate as Hudson and Mayo (15%) but his Isolation rate was double (17%) and only 18% of his offense came from catch and shoot and catch and drive situations - slightly over half of Hudson and Mayo. But his scoring opportunities off of cuts and dump off passes near the rim (10.6%) was approximately double. This is mainly because of his lack of 3-point shooting, which also results in worse spacing.

So we can conclude that Hudson and Mayo played similar roles in Liaoning, while clearly Stephenson was a different type of player. He dominated the ball in isolation situations more than the other two shooting guards, and also scored more off of cutting to the basket and hanging out for dump offs near the rim rather than spacing the floor with his three point shooting. Which resulted in poor spacing and had Guo Ailun out of his comfort zone.

So where does Simmons fit in? Simmons is a big guard who can play the 2 or the 3 positions. During his NBA tenure, he operated the ball screen as a ball handler quite frequently, but without success. Simmons has been a below average three point shooter for his career, and prefers to drive more than shoot off the catch. Because of his lack of shooting, we predict he will play more like Stephenson than to Mayo or Hudson. Opposing teams may sag off of him to provide more help for Guo Ailun drives. After seeing the chemistry struggles last season with Lance Stephenson and Guo Ailun, we are surprised Liaoning has signed another guard of the same mold. This is equally surprising as Simmons role may also overlap heavily with rookie Zhang Zhenlin who needs the minutes to develop.

The Liaoning offense works best when the import guard is a shooting threat off-ball to help create more space for Guo Ailun to operate with Han Dejun in the pick and roll, and Simmons does not have the consistent 3-point shooting needed to provide spacing for their offense. Although Simmons did play in the NBA before coming to the CBA and OJ Mayo played for the Fubon Braves in the ABL, we will clearly see that OJ Mayo is the better fit for the team and will help the team win more games than Simmons can.

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