Ben Simmons or Skal Labissiere: Who Starts Year as NBA Draft's No. 1 Prospect?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2015

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 15: Skal LaBissiere shoots a jumpshot during the NBPA Top 100 Camp on June 15, 2013 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)
Kelly Kline/Getty Images

The NBA draft discussion is made up of layers that consists of sleepers, breakout players, fringe first-rounders and lottery candidates. But the discussion ultimately begins with the No. 1 overall contenders. 

And this year, the favorites are unsurprisingly two freshmen who each scream NBA potential. 

LSU forward Ben Simmons has been generating buzz for years. Meanwhile, the rise of Kentucky big man Skal Labissiere occurred mostly over the past year. 

Both prospects are expected to make immediate impacts in college and consequently battle for position atop draft boards across the league. 

With the spotlight comes the debate we can expect to linger throughout next year. 

Simmons versus Labissiere: Who has the edge entering the season?   

The Case for Simmons

Apr 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA;  McDonalds High School All American East forward Ben Simmons (25) dribbles on the perimeter during the McDonalds High School All American Game at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Simmons' Physical Tools
Projected NBA PositionSizeWeight (lbs)WingspanStanding Reach
SF/PF6'9.5"2296'11"8'7"
Nike Hoop Summit

Simmons is practically one of a kind in terms of style of play for a 6'9½", 229-pounder.

Unparalleled versatility sets him apart. Simmons meshes power forward size and above-the-rim athleticism with point guard ball skills and vision. He's a mismatch—too quick off the dribble for traditional bigs and too tall and strong for the majority of wings. 

But Simmons also projects as a player teams can run their offensive sets through. 

His basketball IQ and passing instincts are off the charts and represent two strengths likely to carry over from one level to the next. 

Nobody is comparing him to LeBron James, but Simmons actually shares a similar skill set and projected role as a scoring and distributing point forward.

His value ultimately lies within his ability to create quality looks and easy buckets, whether they're for himself or teammates. Coaches can call on Simmons to initiate the offense and make something happen.

A natural facilitator in the half court, Simmons works over the defense, which he can pick apart with ball-handling and timely dimes off screens and penetration. 

He's comfortable creating out of pick-and-rolls and a threat to blow by in isolation. 

We could also eventually be talking about one of the game's most dangerous weapons in transition. He consistently converts open-floor opportunities into dunks and layups by taking defensive rebounds and outlets coast to coast before defenses can set. 

Though his passing remains ahead of everything else, Simmons can still put up points, having averaged 20 per game through five contests during LSU's August trip to Australia. 

He's at his best attacking the rim, where he can knock down indefensible floaters and runners on the move. Simmons' jumper is a work in progress, and though his stroke is far from ideal, it's not broken. He's a capable shot-maker with room to improve. 

His physical tools also translate to defensive playmaking—steals, blocks, deflections, forced turnovers—as well as more versatility. He sticks with guards outside and holds his ground down low. The fact that he guards multiple positions is just a cherry on top of what's already a convincing all-around sales pitch.

The Case for Labissiere 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 17: Skal Labissiere #64 in red looks to pass the ball up the court during the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 Camp on June 17, 2014 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Get
Kelly Kline/Getty Images
Labissiere's Physical Tools
Projected NBA PositionSizeWeight (lbs)WingspanStanding Reach
PF/C6'11"2257'1.5"9'0.5"
Kentucky Athletics/Nike Hoop Summit

Labissiere's stock really exploded during the spring, when both Rivals and Scout.com moved him atop their recruiting ranks ahead of Simmons. The fact that Labissiere has gradually expanded and sharpened his game naturally suggests he'll continue to grow and develop.

His case for the No. 1 overall pick revolves around game-changing potential at each end of the floor. If he hits his stride, the team that drafts him could be adding an offensive centerpiece and defensive anchor.

With 7'0" size, good hands and bounce, Labissiere has terrific physical tools for both a power forward and center—two positions his skill set ultimately covers. 

It's highlighted by shooting touch and shot-making ability from the high post to mid-range area, where he can rise up for a jumper or shake and bake into a fallaway. Labissiere has a notably high release that's difficult to contest. 

With the ability to face up and score in the 12- to 20-foot-range range, it's easy to envision Labissiere's shot selection looking similar to LaMarcus Aldridge's by the time he's peaked. 

He'll need to continue adding upper-body bulk, but Labissiere has also shown promise as a back-to-the-basket scorer, thanks to a soft over-the-shoulder jump hook in the lane. 

He's given off the impression he can eventually become a go-to featured option, whether it's at the elbows, the low block or in the pick-and-roll-and-pop games. 

And as much as Simmons has to offer on both sides of the ball, his defensive ceiling falls just short of Labissiere's. We've seen the latter demonstrate tremendous instincts in rim protection, as well as the ability to cover ground from the baseline to the arc. 

He racked up six blocks in April's Nike Hook Summit and even showcased some lateral foot speed closing out and containing away from the hoop. 

We saw it last June with top pick Karl-Anthony Towns—the NBA covets big men who can stretch the floor and protect the basket. And Labissiere fits that description early on. 

Picking a Winner 

Say what you want about the depth of the projected 2016 class, but with Simmons and Labissiere, there is a good chance it produces some star power at the top. 

Though it's a little early to predict who the first pick will be, every race needs a favorite. 

And at this stage of September, with over two months to go before the season, it's just too tough to bet against Simmons, the more proven of the two. 

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

He operates with fluidity and polish that Labissiere currently lacks, which helps make the argument for Simmons as a safer bet.

And I'd have a hard time proclaiming either prospect's ceiling higher than the other's. Both pack franchise-player-type upside down the road. 

The difference right now is Simmons' basement floor, which rests a few levels above Labissiere's. The former appears to offer similar potential reward, with just a little less risk.

When you take into account his body, burst, skills and intelligence, he looks like an NBA player right now. Meanwhile, all that versatility adds to Simmons' margin for error. Even if he fails to ever become a knockdown shooter or reliable one-on-one scorer, his floor game, defense and transition attack should still hold plenty of value.

Simmons still has a few wrinkles to iron out, but none seem alarming enough to drop him from the top spot on our board. 

“I definitely want to be the No. 1 pick, he told the Guardian's Kieran Pender.

Though the draft is still a ways away, we'll give Simmons the offseason nod to get his wish in 2016.

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