The longest held secret (was it really a secret) of Ben Simmons adding his name to the one and done list and entering the NBA Draft in June was revealed to an anticlimactic yawn. He hired LeBron James agent to represent him. But unlike James in 2003 or even Dwyane Wade for that matter, Simmons is not ready to rescue a franchise from the drowning depths of lottery hell. He couldn’t save a group of teenagers so why would anyone think his first two years of NBA life playing with men on a horrible team is going to be anything more than what we saw of him in college?
The scouts at Draft Express summed it up this way:
“There’s little question that Simmons was unfairly labeled as a generational talent going into his freshman season by uninformed voices in the media. He could still develop into a unique mismatch in the NBA, particularly if he shows a willingness and openness to address his flaws.”
As has been noted multiple times, Ben Simmons, if he is the number one pick (there is a lot of talk about Brandon Ingram sliding in) will be the first college player selected number one not to play in the NCAA tournament. It’s a knock on Simmons inability to get teammates around him to play better in a weak SEC conference and it says something about his leadership ability and competitive will. Yes, he got his. 19 and 11. But he lost to College of Charleston too. He frequently played as if LSU was a dress rehearsal for his #1 pick and NBA career, as if none of it really mattered.
Simmons was often lazy on defense, didn’t play hard all the time and can’t shoot farther than my grandmother. His highlights were extraordinarily impressive for a college kid but now comes the big boys and he’s missing some things that the NBA wants in a number pick, particularly a maniacal competitor.
But first his special talent(s): He’s a premier passer with excellent court vision. He plays in the post. He’s hyperathletic in a Blake Griffin kind of way. He is an open court player that excels at turning defense to offense, ala LeBron James, get the rebound and flat out go. According to the NCAA database, he was a 6-10 player who averaged five assists, joining 6-9 and above players Luke Walton, Danny Ferry, Nick Thompson and Jerald Honeycutt. He was the only one who did it as a freshman.
Unlike, say, a Julius Randle, he can use both his right or left hand around the rim. His footwork is better than most college players and he has a limited arsenal of jump hooks. He is a quality rebounder with great instincts for the ball.
Now the rest: he can’t score in the half court. He approaches the game as if he knows he’s the most talented person on the court. It’s going to be a rude NBA awakening. His wingspan is not particularly impressive at seven feet. He’s an average pick and roll player and put a small athletic wing on him and he struggles.
He doesn’t take on contact like you would think, considering his size, and his finishing ability at LSU was just 55%, but he did get to the line a lot.
There is a lot of old-school to Simmons game, the type of non floor spacer that a NBA lifer like Oscar Robertson would love. He doesn’t shoot threes so he doesn’t stretch the floor. He fits with a team that has a lot of good outside shooters, not one that needs him to create space for them.
The biggest red flag about Simmons game is his defense and his aversion to contact. When he’s motivated he makes a half-effort. When he’s not, he doesn’t do anything worth remembering. He doesn’t make any noticeable attempt to guard shooters. He swipes at the ball in a half-hearted shrug. The NBA is a league in which you have to get into guys and Simmons plays soft a lot of the time on the defensive end. His defensive fundamentals are questionable.
Is Simmons a Kobe-like, LeBron like competitor? It’s the same kind of criticism you hear coming out of the Lakers camp with D’Angelo Russell who has been accused of casualness, ego and taking plays off. Does Simmons compete all the time? Does he cheat the game? Of course we are talking about a 19 year old kid here and it’s not fair to compare him to the game’s greatest competitors but he garnered so much elite hype early on, it created an image of him that didn’t exactly meet reality.
“If Simmons cares so little about winning crucial college road games at Tennessee or Kentucky that could have delivered LSU to the NCAA tournament, how much will he consistently care about competing over a far more physically and mentally draining 82-game pro season? Truth be told, Simmons will be on a bad team that will need to fight every night to win games.” (Draft Express)
What will be uncomfortable to the bad teams doing the scouting, the Lakers, Suns and 76ers, are the reports about Simmons by those who know him well and the portrait they paint makes it apparent his ego is fed first. He’s been accused by many of being a stat padding freak, the same thing that was said about Kevin Love. His former teammates on the Australian national team haven’t been very complimentary. He’s a kid who is privileged and he is entering the NBA with men who take great joy at destroying that privilege.
Simmons should have been in the tournament. Then, he’d have a first hand glimpse of high level competition. He should have led his team at least to a first round exit. But, he didn’t. He couldn’t. What’s next? A lot of losing.
It’s unclear if Simmons has the mind set of a Jahlil Okafor who couldn’t take the bottom feeder life. Or, if Ben Simmons is even ready for basketball and all of its complications at the next level. There’s more to it than dunking the ball and ESPN highlights and cashing checks. Here, winning matters.
photo via llananba