Formerly ESPN’s top-ranked high school player, the LSU Tigers‘ Ben Simmons has gained more nationwide attention with every game. In fact, he’s looking like a candidate for the top overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
Last week, in his historic performance against North Florida, Simmons recorded 43 points, 14 boards, 7 assists, 3 blocks, and 5 steals in 37 minutes; he was the first player from a major conference to do this in 20 years. The last LSU player to score 43 points was, of course, Shaquille O’Neal in 1991. As if his stat line wasn’t eye-popping enough, he did it without attempting a single three-pointer. In fact, all 15 of his field goals came from within the paint.
The 6-10, 225-pound freshman forward from Melbourne, Australia was one of the preseason top 50 nominees for the John Wooden award. He’s currently averaging 19.9 points, 14.9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.6 blocks and 2.1 steals per game, while shooting almost 54 percent from the floor. The kid obviously has huge upside and is a stat sheet stuffer, but will his game translate to the NBA?
Ben Simmons is one of those new generation players who are changing the game as we know it. He can play and defend a number of positions; he has the handle of a point guard and the passing vision to match; on top of it all, he’s freakishly athletic. He has the skill set like LeBron James and a body like Kevin Durant, but he’s younger than Anthony Davis. Does this mean he will definitely come into the league and dominate? No, but the potential is there. As such, he seems worth a season of tanking (but I didn’t say that)–especially for a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, who will need a new superstar since Kobe Bryant is retiring. Ben Simmons would have an immediate impact if his surrounding cast is right; this is why an inexperienced team like the Philadelphia 76ers wouldn’t be a great fit. The oldest player to play for the Sixers this year is 23; this lack of clubhouse leadership can even have an impact off the court as well. This might account for some of what Jahlil Okafor‘s current struggles.
Although it might seem like Simmons is the perfect candidate for the top pick, he does have his weaknesses. First off, he’s only 225 pounds. Like most “one and done” players, Simmons would need to get bigger and stronger to compete in the NBA on a daily basis. But there’s evidence that it can be done: Kevin Durant only weighed 215 pounds at the end of his freshman year at Texas, and he was the only player that literally couldn’t bench press 185 pounds at the combine. Simmons’ second weakness is his jump shot, which is not reliable. He’s only attempted two three-point shots this season (granted, he’s made one), and teams are beginning to sag off of him defensively around the perimeter. As more defenses dare him to shoot the ball from outside, this will affect his ability to get to the basket. Lastly, he’s only an average defender. A player of his stature shouldn’t be scored on as easily as he sometimes is, and shouldn’t be moved as easily as he sometimes seems. Some of this will hopefully change as he fills out into his NBA body.
Ben Simmons is definitely an elite talent, and it seems as if we learn something new about his game all the time. So far, despite his deficiencies, he seems worth all the suffering a last-place team would go through. He should be at the top of every lottery team’s draft board, and If I were an NBA GM I would go all out for him. It will be exciting to see how his story plays out.