Ben Simmons is destined for greatness. The 19-year-old college first-year standout has unparalleled ability on the basketball court and an innate feel for the game that leaves professional scouts drooling. He will undoubtedly be the first over all pick in the NBA Draft this coming June. Often, elite basketball prospects get by on the strength of their sheer athleticism, but Simmons does not fit that cloth. The Australian does possess inborn talents, but it is that uncanny gift mixed with his instinctive understanding of the game that makes the Louisiana State University (LSU) forward so unique.
Simmons, standing at 6 feet 10 inches, has the ball handling and passing capability of a point guard. The LSU star frequently dazzles the defense as he sets up his teammates with no-look and behind-the-back dimes. Simmons is leading the country in assists per game among all forwards with more than five. Not only does he dish the rock, but he is ferocious on the boards as well. Simmons ranks in the top five in the entire NCAA in rebounding. He snares nearly thirteen of them per game. The last Baton Rouge player to average this many rebounds per game was Shaquille O’Neal.
However, like most players, Simmons does have his flaws. One of them is his shooting ability: he has only three attempts from long distance this season. He connected on one of them, but the lack of volume proves that Simmons does not entirely trust his jumper just yet. He will continue to work on his shot, and with time he must improve and become more comfortable shooting from the perimeter. Many prospects have come into the NBA without a consistent jumper, and with professional coaching and training have transformed themselves into respectable jump shooters. Despite his below average shooting, Simmons is scoring over 19 points per game and hitting on nearly 55 percent of his attempts from the field. His ability to put the ball in the basket at such a high rate without an unstoppable jump shot indicates that if Simmons can find a reliable touch from the outside, his offensive game will become even more potent, perhaps becoming unstoppable.
Another criticism of Simmons thus far has been the absence of a “killer mentality,” as he seems unwilling to take over at the end of games when his team needs him most. In a matchup earlier this season against Marquette University, Simmons had the ball and was driving to the basket in the final seconds with his team down one point. Rather than attacking the rim, which at worst would have resulted in Simmons absorbing a foul and having two free throws to decide the game, he swung the ball out to a teammate who missed a contested shot. LSU lost and Simmons was ridiculed in a manner akin to the way an NBA superstar would be for making the same play. That is because one day Simmons is destined to be amongst the NBA’s elite and he must take it upon himself to will his team to victory. It may have been the right play in Simmons’s mind to pass to his teammates in the final seconds, but in crunch time the best players are expected to rise to the occasion and Simmons did not. Simmons will succeed in these situations more times than not, but he must play with more of an edge, especially in moments such as that.
Simmons’s supernatural combination of size, ball handling, court vision, rebounding, and scoring, despite an uninspiring jump-shot, should draw an obvious comparison: LeBron James. Simmons does not perform all of these traits at the level that James does, but James is the only comparable player that does as much for his team as Simmons. Both are similar in stature; Simmons is actually two inches taller, but weighs twenty pounds less. They are keen passers with the aptitude to see the floor and are always one step ahead of the defense. In fact, both have stated that they take more pride and have more fun setting up their teammates than scoring themselves. This willingness to dish the ball to their teammates makes it even more challenging for the defense to stop them when they decide to attack the rim. James and Simmons are overpowering when determined to get to the rim. There is no stopping either one of them. By no means is this comparison to say that Simmons is going to be one of the best to ever play the game, but his style of play mirrors that of LeBron. With that said, without question Ben Simmons is the best prospect since James came out of Akron, Ohio.