Comparing Ben Simmons and Julius Randle

After an intense day, the 76ers won the lottery and ended up with the first overall pick, and because of that they get to chose between the top prospects in the draft: Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons. The Lakers received the 2nd overall pick, and while they do not have a choice of which player falls to them, most fans seem to prefer Ingram over Simmons because of his fit on the team as a small forward. With so many debates between who is a better prospect between Simmons and Ingram, I want to compare Simmons to Julius Randle as they could both be potentially playing the same position on the Lakers if Ben is drafted at #2.

My reasoning for comparing Benny the Kangaroo and Don Julio is that they both primarily play at the power forward position and have a similar skill set. They are both big, strong power forwards who can handle the ball quite well and are as quick if not quicker than most guards. They seem to share the same strengths and for the most part the same weaknesses, But how close are they talent wise?

Athleticism
Randle’s pound for pound strength is top 10 in the league right now as a  PF and he’s barely 21.  He’s also extremely quick, as he can go 0 to 100 in a hurry and will look like a runaway train at times. His combination of strength and speed will be a terrific asset to have as he progresses as a player.

Simmons on the other hand isn’t quite as strong but that’s not to say he’s weak as Simmons reportedly “ripped the rim down” during one of his first practices in high school according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. And if Randle has grade A speed then Simmons has A+ speed as he seems to float down the court with ease and ignites for easy fast break buckets. 

Advantage: Simmons
Simmons’ strength is not too far off from Randle’s, and he is easily quicker and has more body control. Another factor that is big for forwards is their jumping ability and Simmons has Randle beat by an almost 9 inch difference with a 37 inch no step vertical and a 41.5 inch max vert while Randle measured at 29 inches and 35.5 inches, respectively. Simmons is easily the more athletic of the two.

Interior scoring
Simmons’ and Randle’s go to form of scoring is driving to the basket and scoring in the paint. During his time at LSU, Simmons converted a decent 56% of the time in the paint. He could have been more efficient but due to his size he was able to draw contact at a good rate to shoot 9 free throw attempts per game.

Randle was fairly similar in college shooting 51% in the paint while attempting 7 free throws a game. He has Some really good post moves to get to the basket and is exceptional at driving with quick steps.

Advantage: Simmons
Overall, their interior scoring and efficiency were almost identical in college, but what separates Simmons from Randle is that the latter scored exclusively left handed while the former is ambidextrous and has shown the ability to score hook shots, layups, and dunks with either hand. That and the fact that teams will have to watch out for Simmons passing out to other players makes him more of an interior threat.

Outside scoring
In a day and age were shooting and converting 3’s is extremely important , Randle and Simmons are on the outside looking in on this aspect of scoring. At the end of the season, teams gave them space by limiting the driving lanes so they had to settle for pull up jump shots at times. For the most part it worked as they didn’t look comfortable shooting with Randle shooting 25% on jumpers and Simmons sitting at 31%. However, after a while Simmons and Randle started to show small improvements in their shooting form. They were not game-changing improvements but improvements nonetheless, leading to hope that both of their jumpers can be salvaged.

Advantage: Opposing teams
At the moment their jump shots are abysmal and won’t be a league average shot for at least a couple of seasons and teams will take advantage of that right away. At this point I have not seen enough from either of them to determine who will end up with a more consistent jumper.

Size
Both Randle and Simmons are decent sized PF’s. Randle came into the league at 6’9″ and Simmons will come in at 6’10.5″, so they aren’t exactly 7 foot and up power forward prospects that teams covet like Kristaps Porzingis or Dragan Bender. They still have good size and build, however. Randle before his gruesome season ending injury came into the league with an NBA ready body as he was well muscled for his age and Simmons will do the same, albeit with a leaner body. What should be noted is that they don’t have fantastic wingspans, with Randle’s wingspan being 6’11″ and Simmons’ being 7 feet.

Advantage: Simmons
Simmons is at the advantage here at 6’10” with a 7′ wingspan. He may not be as muscular as Randle but that might be to his advantage as his lean yet muscular body contributes to his quickness on the court. His wingspan is not extremely long like the frequently compared Giannis Antetokounmpo but when compared to Randle, it is more preferable.

Court vision/Ball handling
One main reason that Randle and Simmons are so similar is that they are both capable of handling the ball at the power forward position. Randle did not show it much last year but in the last 12 games he started to assume a bigger role in handling the ball with 5 games of 4+ assists. He could have had more but the Lakers were notorious for dropping good passes and wasting open shots.

Ball handling is a big part of why Simmons is a top prospect and that shows with averages of 5 assists per game at LSU. If you watch one game you’ll see him on a nightly basis make plays left and right that just wow you. A side affect of those flashy passes are 3 turnovers a game and that can be a legitimate concern but considering he plays as a point forward and handles the ball more than Randle, I don’t see much of a problem.

Advantage: Simmons
Simmons main reason for being a top 2 pick is that he is a true point forward, playing like a point guard in a power forward’s body. He is very fluid with his dribbling and is able to scan the entire court quickly and respond just as quickly with lightning fast passes that make you think of Lebron James. He’s not as athletic or as skilled as James but has the same elite passing skills. Randle has advanced as a ball handler, but No matter how skilled Randle gets at handling the ball he won’t be as good as Simmons, who is a natural point forward.

Defense
Defense is a big part of the NBA especially with how many more proficient shooters there are, and Julius Randle was not very good on that side of the court. He was not too bad with his on-ball defense, but when it came to off-ball defense he was horrendous. Too many times he would get burned on pick and rolls, and I wish that was his only problem. His defensive awareness is lacking, he commits an atrocious amount of personal fouls, and he doesn’t pay attention when the ball isn’t near him.

Simmons’ problems on the other hand are almost the opposite. He has elite defensive skills and anticipation, which are evident in his stats which show 2.1 steals and 1 block per game. His main problem is energy and effort. As the season went on he started to put less effort and it showed. He would often just slap at the ball and go for the steal instead of staying with his man and taking contact, and many times he would stop contesting jump shots even from smaller players who he could have easily blocked.

Advantage: Simmons
Simmons effort may or may not be a problem going into the NBA but his defensive awareness is already good. He knows what is happening and what will happen (maybe due to his own passing ability) and has quick hands that will produce a lot of steals in the league. His wingspan is a concern for his defensive potential but he makes up for it with his crazy athleticism. What is also overlooked often is his ability to guard multiple positions. He’s strong enough to guard power forwards and centers and he moves his feet well enough to guard wings and some point guards. The real problem is his effort and whether Luke Walton can get him to buy into playing hard. Overall I think his defensive potential is higher than Randle’s.

Rebounding
Randle’s rebounding was fantastic in college and translated into the NBA just as the Lakers wanted. His average wingspan didn’t matter for the most part, as he would often use his tremendous strength to snag the ball away from other players. One problem that stood out to me is that many times he was unable to get the rebound because his arms were not long enough to get the ball with little momentum.

Simmons is also a terrific rebounder and will continue to dominate the boards every night. He doesn’t have very long arms, but that doesn’t deter him from crashing the boards for rebound after rebound. One factor that makes his rebounding extremely important to his game as 26% of his offensive possessions come after getting a defensive rebound and getting down the court for fast breaks.

Advantage: Simmons
His rebounding stats are similar to Randle’s and he’s not as strong as Randle but the X-factor here is his standing reach and vertical. His standing reach is almost 3 inches higher than Randle’s, but his vertical is what puts him ahead. He has an almost 9 inch difference on his no step vertical when compared to Randle’s which will play a big factor in the NBA.

Overview and fit on the team
My overall opinion on the two is that while Randle has a lot of good physical and skilled tools, he is just outmatched by Simmons both athletically and skill-wise. Simmons has him beat on almost every single aspect of the game except for Randle’s strength, and that’s no some small task. So while having Simmons on the team with Randle causes some concerns on how they will fit together, he is an upgrade at the power forward position by a long shot.

While I do think Brandon Ingram fits better on the team, I think Luke Walton can get Randle and Simmons to work well in a lineup. Simmons and Randle could switch off guarding the center and power forward, and the former could play point while the latter plays in the post. This would create a serious mismatch for opposing teams as most wouldn’t have the personnel to defend against one, let alone two extremely athletic and skilled power forwards at the same time. Drafting Simmons creates some concerns but he is still a very elite prospect worthy of a top 2 pick for the Lakers.

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