Imagine every college prospect and NBA player gets thrown into a pool for one big draft. General managers who are looking for a star to build their franchise around could have a lot to think about when assembling their big boards.
Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns—last year's No. 1 pick—versus LSU freshman Ben Simmons—2016's favorite to go first—would likely make for some interesting debate within scouting departments.
Towns has exceeded expectations since joining the Wolves, looking every bit the star he flashed the potential to become at Kentucky. Simmons continues to put up eye-opening numbers while intriguing the world with unique style and versatility.
So who's the better long-term option?
|Age, Physical Tools|
|Simmons (SF/PF)||19||6'10"||240||7'0 ¼"|
|Towns (PF/C)||20||7'0"||244||7'3 ¼"|
Simmons' 19.5 points per game rank second among freshmen. He's erupted a number of times, having gone for 43 points against North Florida, 36 against Vanderbilt and 28 at Florida.
It's worth noting that Towns didn't hit the 20-point mark in college until the NCAA tournament, though he averaged 13.4 fewer minutes and nearly half as many shot attempts compared to LSU's go-to man.
Simmons' scoring ability is fueled by showtime athleticism, strength, instincts, ball-handling and ambidexterity. Together it translates to quality scoring chances and should result in Simmons immediately establishing himself as one of the game's most dangerous open-floor weapons.
According to Hoop-Math.com, he's already converted 57 field goals in transition through 22 games—a tremendous number for any player, never mind one his size. That means 38 percent of his made field goals have come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.
|Simmons: Transition vs. Half Court|
|Field goals made|
|Transition (first 10 seconds of shot clock)||57|
Simmons' ability to push the ball off defensive rebounds and weave through traffic has led to layups and dunks before defenses could set. It's a strength that should hold even more value in the faster, open NBA.
Still, the majority of basketball is played in the half court. And with the game slowed down, he has shown some weakness.
On the positive side, he's taken advantage of smaller defenders in the post, where we've seen him hit unconventional but effective over-the-shoulder hooks and fallaways.
He's at his best facing up and attacking off the dribble. Simmons leans on muscle, body control and improvisation in the lane with lefty and righty runners off one foot.
In terms of his eventual transition to the pros, nothing changes regarding his bread and butter. Even NBA power forwards should have trouble containing Simmons' quickness and agility in space.
However, so long as he lacks a proven jumper, defenses won't hesitate to sag back a few feet and take away the drive. Simmons has expressed little interest in attempting shots outside the paint.
|Simmons Half-Court Scoring Distribution|
|At the rim||58||.744|
|Two-point jumpers (any two-point FG away from rim)||34||.327|
When you consider that 38 percent of his field goals have come on the fast break and 16.6 percent have come on putbacks (25), it's clear he relies on pace and physical tools to generate a significant portion of his offense.
Meanwhile, though Towns wasn't as dominant offensively at Kentucky, his game has transitioned seamlessly from one level to the next. He's averaging 16.5 points on 53.8 percent shooting in the NBA, and he's getting it done from all over the floor.
Towns has flashed everything from back-to-the-basket moves and strong pick-and-roll play to an effective one-on-one game. In terms of field goals made, he ranks in the top 15 in the league in post-ups (57) and top 10 as a roll man (81), according to NBA.com.
And though he doesn't get featured as much as the veteran superstar bigs, Towns has excelled in isolation, converting 22 of his 38 opportunities, good for 1.13 points per play. We've seen him put it on the floor for one-to-two-dribble takes or rise and fire over the top of his man.
Minnesota's centerpiece has also been lights out shooting away from the hoop, making 48 percent of his spot-ups, 41.5 percent of his pull-ups and 47.2 percent of his mid-range jumpers on 235 attempts. Only Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Jahlil Okafor average more field goals made from the elbows.
He's even shown comfortable three-point range (18-of-46, 39.1 percent) and has shot 84.9 percent from the line.
Towns has established himself as a threat to score out of just about every offensive situation. And he's been remarkably efficient for a first-year player.
From a scoring standpoint, the current question on everyone's mind is whether Simmons can improve his shooting touch, and if not, how much will it matter? While he should be capable of compensating in other areas, scoring in volume may be difficult without the ability to sink outside shots.
Simmons' identity revolves around versatility that's driven by playmaking that only few NBA bigs can offer.
No double-digit college rebounder (since 1995) has averaged at least five assists per game, per Sports-Reference.com (minimum five games). Simmons' ability to facilitate will likely continue translating to some point-forward responsibility.
You could argue his most appealing selling point is his potential to make teammates better. He creates easy scoring chances for them, whether it's by pushing the break—Simmons has 38 assists in transition, just nine fewer than Providence floor general Kris Dunn—or with breakdown penetration that leads to kick-outs and open threes.
A team can also use him as a passing weapon from the post, where he sees the floor and fires darts to shooters or cutters while the defense focuses on him.
Though his 1.5 assists per game aren't overwhelming, Towns also happens to be a strong passer. He's demonstrated vision on the move and good awareness with his back to the basket.
However, he's a different breed of big man compared to Simmons and therefore won't be counted on for playmaking.
Simmons leads all freshmen with 12.5 rebounds per game, having finished with double-digit boards in 16 of his 22 contests.
He goes after loose balls in traffic. And thanks to a solid frame with which to bang below the rim, as well as the hops to play above it, he brings in an exceptional 19.2 percent of the available rebounds while on the floor.
The 25 misses he's put back into second-chance points highlight his coordination around the basket.
On the other hand, Towns has quickly emerged as one of the NBA's top-10 rebounders, averaging 9.9 per game. He's pounded the offensive glass for 55 putbacks, good for No. 5 in the league behind Hassan Whiteside.
Listed at 7'0", 244 pounds, Towns' physical tools and athleticism appear built for the NBA's interior. Though Simmons has rebounded in volume at LSU, it wouldn't be surprising to see his numbers drop off in the pros, especially when you consider the time he may spend around the perimeter at both ends of the floor.
We've seen mixed results from Simmons on defense, with the negatives stemming from a lack of effort and length inside. He doesn't challenge everything in his area, particularly when it's in the paint, while his 7'0 ¼" wingspan projects on the short side for a power forward.
It seems fair to question how much Simmons will bother bigger 4s such as Derrick Favors, Kristaps Porzingis, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis.
However, he does have quick feet and even faster hands. You'll often see him anticipate and strip a ball-handler or shooter just as he makes his move (1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks per game). Over the course of his career, Simmons should create his fair share of highlights by making defensive plays on the ball.
But there isn't one position Simmons appears capable of locking down, while all indications point to the NBA's Rookie of the Year favorite successfully anchoring the Timberwolves defense.
Towns' 1.8 blocks per game rank in the top 10 in the league. Opponents shoot 47.5 percent at the rim against him. For perspective, Whiteside, the NBA leader in blocks, allows opponents to shoot 46.9 percent at the rim. Among players who see at least seven field goals attempted against them at the rim (minimum of 30 games played), Pau Gasol (44.8 percent) and DeAndre Jordan (46 percent) rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Towns' 7'3 ¼" wingspan, aggression and agility suggest we should eventually be talking about an impact rim protector—something you rarely say about a big who can also stretch the floor offensively.
By all accounts, Towns has a rock-solid reputation on and off the court. Last year, Bleacher Report's Jason King pointed out his reputable work ethic, attitude and character.
Towns has also brought a competitive motor to Minnesota's frontcourt.
But Simmons' intangibles take the cake. He's one of the rare players who can impact a game without needing to look for his shot.
His basketball IQ and unselfishness consistently show up. And though coaches will want to see more aggressiveness, we've witnessed coveted killer instinct.
"I want to be a freshman that can lead," Simmons said, per ESPN. Given his maturity, desire and talent, he's made the impression that he'll make a fine leader when it's time to become one.
Simmons vs. Towns
Both Simmons and Towns have given hope to fulfilling franchise-player duties in their primes.
It's tough to picture any general manager passing on Simmons this June at No. 1. He has the convincing production to back up the upside. Plus, between his towering ceiling and high basement floor (based on his physical tools, athleticism and intangibles), the risk versus reward looks attractive.
But there are questions tied to Simmons we don't have to ask about Towns, whose fit and skill set appear tailor-made for today's NBA.
It also took him just three months to blossom into one of the league's most complete big men. In the last 30 years, the only rookies to finish with a player efficiency rating higher than Towns' 22.5 are David Robinson, Arvydas Sabonis, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan (minimum 40 games), per Basketball-Reference.com.
He looks like the player we initially hoped he'd become three years from now. Towns is already a two-way force yet still has enormous room to grow.
Whoever lands Simmons could be looking at a new difference-making building block. But at this rate, Towns appears on track to surpass Anthony Davis as the NBA's top talent under 25 years old.