Who's the Better Prospect: Markelle Fultz or Ben Simmons?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJune 5, 2017

Who's the Better Prospect: Markelle Fultz or Ben Simmons?

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    John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2017 NBA draft class is viewed by scouts as strong at the top. The potential star power is evident.

    But will the No. 1 pick be better than last year's?

    After missing the entire 2016-17 season with a foot injury, the Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, the first pick in 2016, will be eligible to compete for 2017-18 Rookie of the Year. His competition: Markelle Fultz, the favorite to go No. 1 on June 22.

    Both players had to answer questions about missing the NCAA tournament. But obvious talent and enormous production allowed NBA evaluators to leave their college records out of the scouting equation.

    So who's the better long-term prospect?

Positional Mismatches: Fultz vs. Guards, Simmons vs. Wings/Bigs

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Much of the appeal to both Simmons and Fultz stems from their advantageous tools and athleticism relative to others at their positions.

    Simmons is 6'10", 240 pounds—strong, power forward measurements—yet he's a ball-handler with the agility and quickness of a wing. Bigs don't usually have the foot speed to keep Simmons in front of them, especially when he's isolated in space.

    Opposing coaches may try to use small forwards on him. But most 3s will be roughly 15-20 pounds lighter.

    As dangerous as he is facing up, he's no pushover inside, where he shot 75.2 percent at the rim and collected a 18.2 percent of available rebounds at LSU. He'll threaten for double-doubles on off days. 

    At 6'4", 195 pounds, Fultz isn't the unique, physical mismatch Simmons can be. But he's still an impressive athlete with measurements that mirror John Wall's. Fultz's 6'9¾" wingspan would rank as one of the longest among starting NBA point guards.

    He converted some spectacular, acrobatic finishes at the rim during his one year at Washington. And he should continue getting his shot off with relative ease.

    But if we're a picking the tougher positional mismatch, it has to be Simmons, who'll have some type of edge against anyone not named LeBron James.

Comparing Moneymaker Strengths

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Simmons and Fultz will be franchise players valued for different strengths.

    The former's value is driven by his ability to both create and finish easy scoring chances. The ability to create and hit tough shots is what could make Fultz so special offensively.

    Simmons' facilitating and transition game will be his primary moneymakers. With the size and vision to see and make plays over the defense, as well as the handle to navigate through it, he's a unique setup man. He was one of only two college players since at least 1992-93 to average no fewer than 10 rebounds and four assists per game.

    If Simmons is given the chance to run the Philadelphia offense, he's bound to rank high on the NBA's assist leaderboard.

    He'll also be one of the game's most formidable open-floor weapons. Simmons mixes speed, power, coordination and ball skills. Despite his size and weight, he racked up an incredible 63 field goals and 60 assists within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock at LSU.

    Simmons converts defensive rebounds into layups or open looks the other way. He's a constant coast-to-coast threat who's capable of exploding past retreating defenses before they can set.

    Fultz isn't as potent in transition, but he's the bigger threat in the half court, where most of the game takes place.

    He's the complete package of scoring, playmaking and shooting. Fultz was the only freshman in at least the last 25 seasons to average no fewer than 20 points and five assists per game and shoot over 40 percent from three-point range.

    He scores from all three levels, both on and off the ball. Unlike Simmons, Fultz is an advanced one-on-one shot-creator with an arsenal of pull-ups, step-backs and crafty maneuvers off the dribble. He could even play some 2-guard with the ability to shoot off screens or spot-ups.

    But his assist percentage was also higher than Lonzo Ball's, De'Aaron Fox's or Dennis Smith's. Fultz's handle and knack for changing speeds make it easy for him to lose defenders and draw help. He can be equally as effective playing the setup role.

    Along with the fact he gets better every year, Fultz's tools and razor-sharp skills suggest he'll continue to score and pass at an elite level.

Questions About Simmons' Upside/Fit

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Despite spending plenty of time around the perimeter, Simmons made one three-pointer in 1,151 minutes at LSU. The fact he only attempted three was just as telling.

    Simmons showed little confidence in his shooting or range. He passed on open jumpers and opportunities to take the last shot. Unlike Fultz, who can stop and pop or step back into a makeable attempt from anywhere on the floor, Simmons isn't as big of a threat to score one-on-one.

    He's predictable—Simmons wants to attack. He hasn't shown a comfortable pull-up or step-back in his repertoire. Defenders play back to take away the drive and force the outside shot.

    He happens to be phenomenal at improvising as a one-handed scorer—righty or lefty—off one foot in the lane. But the inability to shoot off two feet outside the paint raises questions about his upside as a scorer, especially for a high-usage player who'll frequently operate away from the basket.

Fultz's Tailor-Made Offense vs. Simmons' Unorthodox Game

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The scoring playmaker is the new point guard in today's NBA. Teams want their lead ball-handlers to put constant pressure on defenses with the one-two punch of drives and jumpers.

    Fultz appears to be the ideal floor general to build with—the type who can create for teammates but also take over for stretches with transition threes, unguardable pull-ups and frequent trips to the foul line.

    His game resembles James Harden's. A coach could also play Fultz at either guard spot, depending on how his roster is constructed.

    Simmons isn't as easy to build around given how important it will be to surround him with shooters. The supporting puzzle pieces will have to fit precisely for the 76ers to optimize Simmons' talent.

    With the NBA going small, he also almost forces Philly to play bigger. Will a team with Simmons at the point be quick enough defensively? Playing him at power forward would take away from his core strengths as a facilitator and passer.

    There is a ton of upside tied to Simmons' unorthodox game as an athletic, 6'10" ball-handler. With improved range and perimeter scoring, he could take his offense to rare heights. But until that happens, his fit won't be as seamless as Fultz's.

Who Ya Got?

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    On paper, both players have towering ceilings, but Fultz should have a better chance of reaching his. There aren't any notable obstacles in his path toward stardom.

    Simmons has a lot of ground to make up with his outside shot-creating and shooting. And he isn't Blake Griffin in the post. Simmons looked too far behind as a perimeter scorer to comfortably predict he'll ever be a 20-points-per-game weapon.

    And if he's not, how will it affect his value? Few players become stars without scoring in volume. Draymond Green is one, but he compensates with elite defense and happens to be surrounded by world-class shooters who help optimize his versatility.

    Simmons, whose defensive effort fluctuated at LSU, must either make significant strides with his jumper or play with puzzle-piece teammates who can help mask his weaknesses and exploit his strengths.

    Fultz comes off as today's quintessential lead guard who's loaded with scoring and playmaking firepower. He also turned 19 on May 29, and Simmons will be 21 on July 20.

    Both players are clearly exceptional talents. Equal upside with fewer question marks help make Fultz the more attractive long-term bet.


    Stats courtesy of Hoop-Math.com and Sports Reference.