No college basketball player entered the 2015-16 season with more hype than LSU's Ben Simmons. Under the microscope from day one, Simmons still put up unprecedented numbers to back up the potential that generated so much buzz during his high school career at Montverde Academy.
However, his freshman year wasn't all smooth, as the Tigers missed the NCAA tournament—something that doesn't typically happen to a team with a candidate to go first in the draft.
Regardless, Simmons' talent was impossible to miss, despite the losses and one glaring hole in his game. He'll enter the draft process as a top-two lock with correctable weaknesses and unteachable strengths.
|Ben Simmons' 2015-16 Numbers|
Before Simmons, we hadn't seen a player average 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per game since 1994, according to Sports-Reference.com.
He averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists—numbers that highlight unusual, alluring versatility. He racked up 22 double-doubles in 33 games and shot 56.1 percent inside the arc. Simmons also erupted a few times, having gone for 43 points, 14 boards, seven assists and five steals against North Florida, and 36 points, 14 rebounds and four assists against Vanderbilt.
He also took 10.3 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, a reflection of the pressure he puts on the rim.
On the downside, Simmons made one three-pointer (three attempts) all season and shot 67 percent from the free-throw line. His jump-shooting development will be a popular talking point early in his career.
Simmons has a strong, toned, 6'10", 240-pound frame. He blends size, strength and power with high-level athleticism, impressive quickness and phenomenal coordination. Among his speed, agility, body control and terrific ball-handling skills, he's flashed the potential to become one of the game's most dangerous transition weapons.
He has a knack for pushing the break off defensive rebounds and getting open looks before defenses can set. This season, he totaled 75 made field goals and 60 assists within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, per Hoop-Math.com—tremendous numbers for any player, never mind a power forward.
In the half court, his most attractive strength is his ability to create high-percentage shots for teammates. He's an elite, one-of-a-kind passer with spectacular vision. Simmons did some operating as LSU's primary playmaker, showing he can dish over the top of the defense off ball screens and penetration. Meanwhile, he picked up his fair share of dimes just by whipping the ball crosscourt to shooters or facilitating out of the post.
As a scorer, Simmons is unorthodox.
On the perimeter, he relies on beating his man off the dribble and finishing off one foot in the lane. Rarely does he make a shot with two hands on the ball; his arsenal consists mostly of one-handed runners and floaters. He's also equally effective (if not more) with his off-right hand than he is with his left.
Simmons is a fantastic finisher around the basket, where he possesses the strength to play through contact and the dexterity to convert from awkward angles from either side of the rim. He is also a tough back-to-the-basket cover, given his ability to improvise on the fly with unconventional (one-handed) fallaways over both shoulders.
He was also an active rebounder, having pulled in 13.5 boards per 40 minutes and racking up 38 putbacks, per Hoop-Math.com. And though not known for his defense, he has quick hands and instincts, which allow him to force turnovers and make plays on the ball.
Otherwise, his basketball IQ is undeniably sharp. It shows up most when Simmons is quarterbacking the offense.
Any conversation about weaknesses starts with his jumper. He showed little confidence in his shooting ability, and opponents took notice. Defenders would eventually begin to sag in an attempt to take away the drive and bait him into pulling up. Simmons would often pass on open jumpers to either give up the ball or force a drive.
Mechanically, he shoots on the way down and will no doubt have adjustments to make to his form. Executives must decide whether he'll improve, and if not, how it will affect or bring down his NBA value.
Defensively, his effort was visibly poor at certain times throughout the year. He didn't contest inside shots he could have. A below-average 7'0 ¼" wingspan (for his size) doesn't help his cause.
A disaster finish to the year also raised some concerns over his competitiveness. During losses, particularly LSU's last one of the season (lost by 33 to Texas A&M), Simmons looked disinterested and indifferent, which may turn off general managers who value intensity and killer instinct.
Simmons projects as a point forward, which was a label Lamar Odom wore as a 6'10" ball-handler. The latter was a bit more advanced as a shooter, but his jumper was never a strength (career 31.2 percent from three, 69.3 percent on free throws).
Odom was a unique big who could initiate the break, create, work in the post and rebound. At the least, Simmons should be able to replicate that success.
Draymond Green (Offensively)
While Simmons lacks Green's defensive prowess, his offensive versatility is similar.
They're both power forwards whose rebounding and passing are ahead of their scoring and shooting. Despite averaging just 14 points per game in 2015-16, Green is widely viewed as one of the game's elite. Simmons might not ever be a volume scorer, but he'll still have a chance at receiving routine All-Star invitations by filling up box scores.
The Griffin comparison requires a stretch of the imagination, but when you consider both players' physical tools, athleticism, passing and rebounding, there are similarities.
Coaches may not want Simmons to work at the point away from the basket. As a traditional 4, he'll occupy similar spots on the floor as Griffin, a machine at the rim and a scorer within 15 feet who averaged 4.9 assists per game this season. The Clipper ultimately added a mid-range jumper, which will be Simmons' top priority over the next few years.
A best-case scenario would envision Simmons making outside shots. And if that happens, we could be talking about one of the game's toughest mismatches.
He's going to be strong around the basket, while opposing bigs are bound to have trouble containing him in space, where he can blow by left or right. It would take some improving and expanding, but he clearly offers All-Star-caliber potential, though his ceiling falls short of those of Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Karl-Anthony Towns.
There isn't much risk tied to Simmons, given his physical tools, athleticism, feel for the game and passing, which seem guaranteed to translate. While his ceiling is high, so is his floor.
With an NBA body in a more uptempo league, Simmons should produce right away, whether his jumper comes around or not. If it doesn't and his defense never exceeds average, we'll likely be talking about a high-end starter—just not a franchise-changing impact player.
For most of the year, Simmons was viewed as the No. 1 overall favorite for the 2016 NBA draft on June 23. Despite a rocky finish, nothing has changed.
It may depend on who wins the lottery on May 17, but unless the fit makes zero sense, the first team on the board will stick with Simmons. However, I won't go as far as to call him a future All-NBA honoree. The questions concerning his perimeter game are real, and he doesn't seem to project as a defensive asset.
Team fit may ultimately play a key role in his development early on.
I'd still bank on Simmons converting his talent into multiple All-Star appearances and plenty of triple-doubles. Expect him to start from opening night and take home 2017 Rookie of the Year.