Even before his season began in Baton Rouge at Louisiana, Ben Simmons was the focus of the recruiting class as the No. 1 ranked prospect. He was tabbed the next LeBron. The Next Big Thing.
All he’s done on the year is put up a stat line of 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
For reference, here’s a list of players who have 600 points, 350 rebounds and 150 assists in one college basketball season since 1994-95:
That’s it. The closest player is Draymond Green, who narrowly missed out on the assist mark despite playing four more games than Simmons.
But as the season rolled along, Simmons became old news and, most notably, forward Brandon Ingram of Duke was adopted as the new fad. The wave reached the breaking point when Draft Express writer Jonathan Givony wrote an article for Yahoo, which published on Monday, explaining why the reputable scouting service had moved the ultra-talented forward off the No. 1 prospect spot.
In the article, Givony questioned Simmons’ “lack of competitiveness” in big games, referenced a scout who called him a “skinnier Royce White” and wondered about his approach and desire to the college game.
In no way do I think I’m better evaluator of talent than Givony, who is great at what he does with Draft Express. However, at times people do focus too much on the negatives and not look at what a player like Simmons does positively.
With so much written about how Ingram can fit with the Lakers and so much made about Simmons’ bad fit, let’s look a little deeper into what Simmons does well, where he needs work, and how he could possibly fit with the Lakers (or other NBA teams).
Prior to his season at LSU, Simmons participated in the Hoops Summit and Nike Skills Academy, giving us some measurements on him. He also has some measurements from LSU, but those are typically exaggerated.
He measured 6’10” at the Hoop Summit and at LSU and 6’9.5″ at the Skills Academy. More important, his wingspan is somewhere between 6’11” (measurements at Skills Academy, Hoops Summit) and 7’0.25″ (LSU measurements). While it’s not some type of crazy measurement, at 240 pounds, it gives you an early idea of the crazy athleticism of Simmons.
Since entering the league, the “next” LeBron James tag has been given to prodigy after prodigy, but maybe no one is more deserving or worthy of that tag as Simmons. When watching him play, you can’t help but see some LeBron James in his game.
Consider all the measurements listed above, then watch this play and tell me you don’t think of LeBron James.
That play typifies where Simmons is at his best, which is either in the open court or with a head of steam.
Again, and I won’t keep reminding you, but this man is a damn near 7-footer who moves like a guard. Essentially, he’s a guard in a power forward’s body.
How many players not named LeBron James or Dwight Howard (in his prime, at least) are able to adjust mid-air on that alley-oop and finish. You can see he goes up expecting a lob to his left hand and instead finishes off the backboard and rim with his right.
Now that we’ve established what’s special about Simmons, let’s dive deeper into his offensive game.
Scoring-wise, Simmons loves to working one-on-one against his defender in the halfcourt. When going against a bigger, slower forward, he’ll back up, scan the court, then make his move.
Looking at that last play, it came in a one-point game late with the Tigers down (which brings up a criticism we’ll discuss later). But back to the play, how many NBA players can do that? You can probably count them on one hand.
Simmons doesn’t shy away from contact, either. In many ways, like Julius Randle did in college and in the pros, he welcomes contact and is adept at finishing through it with a soft touch with either hand.
As seen, Simmons is not only incredibly adept at getting to the rim, but finishing through contact. And if he doesn’t score right away, he has incredible second-jump speed that lends him to get rebounds.
Maybe the craziest part about seeing Simmons drive to the rim is that he’s left-handed, yet every clip shown has him finishing with his right hand. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a clip of him finishing with his left hand, though the few you can see, he looks just as adept with his left.
Simmons isn’t the type of player that can only play facing the basket. Quite the contrary, in fact. He’s more than willing to post up and has an array of moves he can make to finish at the rim.
The biggest thing with watching Simmons, though, is his elite passing ability and his court vision in general.
When he gets the ball in the post, he does a fantastic job of knowing when to attack, when to pass and when to lay it off for a teammate when drawing defenders.
Still, he’s most dangerous either in the open court or attacking the rim. He can draw defenses and lay the ball off beautifully for teammates. He’s always scanning the floor for open teammates.
His court awareness is downright staggering. He knows where his teammates are, where defenders are, and which way and where each are moving, sometimes seemingly before they even know.
Just imagine an offense with Russell and Simmons together. The ball movement would be glorious. Simmons isn’t constricted to any spot or situation on the floor to make amazing passes. He can simply be scanning the defense, looking innocent enough before firing a missile.
One of the benefits of having a big man who can pass like that is that he can ignite a fast break at the drop of a hat, whether it means running the floor himself off a steal or rebound or making one pass and setting up a teammate.
That’s a Kevin Love-esque outlet. And that’s not a turn, scan the court and fire. Simmons knew that player was likely leaking out and fired the pass without hesitation. How many players in the NBA right now can make that play?
In general, when you watch Simmons, you’re left wondering many times how many current NBA players can make some of the plays he does.
That’s a one-handed, left-handed, look-away outlet pass off one dribble that hits the player in stride and leads to a basket.
Simmons does a good job of getting on the glass, especially on the offensive end. And again, he doesn’t shy away from contact.
Simmons is also adept at either turning defense into offense with his ability to run the floor or rebound the ball and go coast-to-coast, adding yet another dimension to his game.
First, he’s great at reading passing lanes and flying through them for steals.
On the boards and defensively, Simmons can turn any situation into a fastbreak with his ability to turn and go after getting the ball. His ball-handling already causes problems for defenses and he doesn’t automatically attack, but instead often founds the mismatches or open man in transition and semi-transition.
Now, you’ve seen lots and lots of good of Simmons, let’s discuss the weaknesses.
First and foremost, his jumper, or lack thereof, remains probably the biggest talking point of his weaknesses.
Here’s what many imagine his jumper looks like, and be prepared, this is ugly.
There’s obviously a lot wrong with that shot. There’s an obvious hitch, a pretty ugly kick from his legs. It’s a shooting motion that’s hard to repeat, and repetition is a big thing in perfecting a jumper.
The counterpoint to that, however, is this, which still has noticeable problems, but looks far better.
A lot has been made about his jump-shooting and how little he took jumpers on the year. Is it a matter of lack of confidence in his shot? That certainly has some type of effect on it, but to what degree is hard to say.
The other argument, and one I tend to believe in more, is that Simmons didn’t look for his jumper because he knew how dominant he was elsewhere. Essentially, he wasn’t settling for a 15 to 18-foot jumper when he knew he could get to the rim.
And the more teams knew he wouldn’t shoot, the more they overplayed him to drive. Late in the year, though, he started to knock down some jumpers and looked quite good doing it.
This game was at Auburn in February. By this point, the scouting report was clear: force Simmons to shoot jumpers. And on this night, he obliged to the point that he even took a fadeaway jumper out of the post, something that no one would have expected.
That version of Simmons’ jumper looks smoother and, more than anything, he has confidence in it. The shot certainly doesn’t look any worse than Randle’s (though his jumper needs work as well).
If you look at his free throw, which gives you a better idea of an isolated part of his jumper, it doesn’t look bad.
A jumper is something you can fix. That’s the positive to Simmons’ biggest weakness. If you spend enough time in a gym and are willing to, you can fix a bad jumper. Just ask Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Whether Simmons is the type of guy to lock himself in a gym and do so is another story.
Still, if he can develop a mid-range jumper and maybe even a dependable, open three-pointer, we’re looking at a guy who could dominate the league.
He has the size and the skillset offensively to be the perfect small-ball center, akin to Draymond Green. Obviously, that brings up a lot of questions on his rim-protecting ability, but with a wingspan of 7-feet, you’re looking at a supreme athlete who could develop into something special.
Green’s wingspan is just over 7’1″ and he blocked 35 shots his senior year of college at Michigan State. Simmons finished this year with 28. Green blocked 99 shots last year and is on pace to meet that mark, if not exceed it, this year. There’s a track record for people like Simmons developing, though Green is obviously the exception.
But when you see Simmons do things like this and consider what he could do as a five stepping out, hedging ball screens and, in this scenario, turning over one of the best PGs in the nation, there’s reason to think he could work out as a center.
The other question mark raised was his commitment and desire to the game. If you watch his footage from game one versus game 33, not much changed in Simmons’ game. He was the same player throughout college.
Now, is that attributed to his desire? Maybe. But it’s certainly worth noting that he had the NCAA version of Byron Scott coaching his team in Johnny Jones. Jones was marvelously bad at using Simmons to the best of his ability on the year and anyone who watched an LSU game this season can tell you that.
I don’t buy the argument that Simmons doesn’t have the heart or desire to be great. He was a 19-year old kid who, under old rules, would never have spent a season in college. In reality, he didn’t need a year in college.
He took criticism for not performing well in a “must-win” game for the Tigers against Texas A&M. However, he didn’t get the plaudits for making plays like these on the road against Kentucky one week prior, a game he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, 7 steals and 4 assists.
At the end of the day, Simmons has heaps and heaps of talent. Right now, he could step in for half a dozen NBA teams to start on, and improve, their team.
He’s taken a beating in the press in recent weeks, but he still is one of the most uniquely talented players in a long time to come through the college ranks, and his versatility fits beautifully into the way the NBA is moving. Under the right head coach and in the right developmental system, Simmons can become a world-beater.