Synopsis: Going into the 2016 NBA Draft, most experts predicted that Ben Simmons would be the #1 overall pick. During his “one-and-done” season at LSU, Simmons averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals per game. Given that production, the young phenom justified the hype which began while he still played in high school. Considered by some to be a “can’t-miss” prospect, Simmons regularly has drawn comparisons to LeBron James. Clearly, Simmons has a long way to go to match the best player on the planet. Sorry Steph, but the King still holds the crown. As of now, Simmons has a blank canvas upon which to paint his career. The odds are greater that Simmons will be a Not Top 10 Bust (i.e. an all-time great) than a Top 10 Bust (i.e. an all-time failure). Yet, I’m still not completely sold on him.
POTENTIAL (NOT) TOP 10 BUST: BEN SIMMONS
As no surprise, the Philadelphia 76ers took Ben Simmons with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. After years of tanking, the Sixers potentially got a player worthy of the sacrifice. At least, most NBA analysts / draft experts think so. During ESPN’s draft-night coverage, Jay Bilas described the highly regarded prospect as a forward with point-guard skills. Specifically, Bilas labeled him as “a big-time passer with full-court vision.” At the same time, he argued that Simmons “can take the ball to the hole and finish with either hand.” As a criticism, however, ESPN’s lead draft analyst commented that Simmons needs to improve as an outside shooter.
THE NEXT GRANT HILL?
Supporting Bilas’s assessment, fellow ESPN analyst Jalen Rose compared the young phenom to former NBA star Grant Hill. Specifically, Rose commented that Hill was and Simmons is a multi-faceted forward. Furthermore, Rose noted that Hill made seven All-Star and five All-NBA teams (and $143 million) during his illustrious career. Obviously, any team would relish having someone as talented as Hill (especially the pre-injury version). Then again, Rose could have made a comparison to a different “point forward” with limited range on his outside shot. Regardless, he decided not to bring up LeBron’s name even though many others did.
Assuming Simmons lives up to the comparison, he would rank just outside the top quartile of all first overall picks. Of note, Hill finished his career with 100 win shares. That total is just below the 110 win shares needed to reach the top 25% of all players taken with the #1 overall pick. As a point of reference, every player with at least 125 win shares has been enshrined into basketball’s Hall of Fame. In contrast, players with 100-110 win shares need help in the form of championships, All-Star selections, and All-NBA teams. Overall, Hill is probably on the cusp of being immortalized in Springfield, Massachusetts. Regardless, the comparison can be considered a solid endorsement of Simmons and his abilities.
While driving to work last week, I listened to Mike & Mike fill-in Jay Williams question whether Simmons has a “killer instinct.” In particular, Williams contrasted the rookie with historically great players like Jordan, Kobe and LeBron. Despite my limited talent assessment abilities, I made a similar observation while watching Simmons play for LSU last year.
I only saw a few LSU games last season, but I watched the Tigers more than at any other time since Shaq played for them. Usually, I don’t watch much college basketball prior to March, but LSU’s match-up against the #1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in late January 2016 was must-see TV. In a game featuring two future top 10 overall picks, Simmons’ stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists seemed very small in comparison to Buddy Hield’s stat line of 32 points (on 8-15 shooting beyond the arc) and seven rebounds.
WHO YA GOT – BEN SIMMONS OR BUDDY HIELD?
LSU respectably only lost by two (77-75) to a team which made the 2016 Final Four. Still, Simmons failed to make the most of the big stage. For me, Simmons’ “one-and-done” season at LSU can be best summarized with that last observation. Specifically, I don’t think he elevated his game when it mattered most.
As a continuation of that sentiment, LSU embarrassingly lost to #17 ranked Texas A&M by the score of 71-38 in the second round of the 2016 SEC Tournament. In that game, Simmons had a stat line of 10 points (on 4-11 shooting from the field and 2-7 from the line), 12 rebounds, and one assist. At that point, I realized that he had checked out completely. Academically ineligible for the Wooden Award, Simmons clearly didn’t care about studying hard. As the likelihood of an NCAA invitation waned, he seemingly didn’t care about playing hard either. By rejecting the opportunity to play in the NIT, LSU Coach Johnny Jones realized it too.
WE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT PRACTICE
Hopefully, Simmons has the ability to turn on the competitive switch at the next level. In contrast, the all-time greats always had it. Of note, the best of the best seem to have an insatiable desire to win. 2016 Hall-of-Fame honoree Allen Iverson may not have given his all during PRACTICE, but no one can question the reckless abandon with which he played games. As the Sixers’ #1 overall pick in 1996, Iverson had to endure several losing seasons before helping turn around the franchise’s fortunes. Even when facing a 9-32 record at the halfway point of his rookie season, Iverson played hard every game. How will Simmons respond if/when faced with the same situation? Unfortunately, the answer is not clear.
Overall, I hope Ben Simmons will become an all-time great (i.e. a Not Top 10 Bust). However, I’m not willing to make that claim yet. As part of the previously referenced conversation on Mike & Mike, Ryan Russillo argued that LeBron is a unique kind of “killer.” Unlike MJ or the Black Mamba, King James “kills” because of his ability to take advantage of whatever the defense gives him. Perhaps Simmons has the same ability, but I’ll wait until I see it. For now, I’ll accept Jalen Rose’s comparison to Grant Hill because anything more would be presumptuous.