ROY or Not, NBA Execs Prefer Ben Simmons, Could Get LeBron to GOAT Status

Ken Berger@@KBergNBAFeatured Columnist IApril 13, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 6: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on during foul shots at the Wells Fargo Center on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ben Simmons;LeBron James
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After a superb rookie season, Ben Simmons will lead the Philadelphia 76ers into their first playoff series since 2012 on Saturday when they host the Miami Heat.

Other teams have endured longer postseason droughts, but none in modern NBA history have undergone the depth and breadth of losing that had become a way of life in the City of Brotherly Love.

Somewhere along the way—unless dozens of voters are trusting the process of inebriation—Simmons will hoist the Rookie of the Year trophy. And if you think there's any debate about that, it's time to re-evaluate your life.

"Ask 30 GMs and 30 coaches who they would rather have," a Western Conference general manager told Bleacher Report. "That's all you need to know."

That, and the fact that Simmons led all NBA rookies in rebounds, assists and steals, was second in minutes, third in scoring average and fourth in blocks. With averages of 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists, Simmons is in rare company—not just among rookies, but among all players in NBA history.

Only eight players have posted those averages for a season, per Basketball Reference: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Simmons. Six of them—all but Harden and Simmons—have a league MVP to their names. So if Harden, the favorite, wins this year's award, Simmons will be the only player to ever average 15-8-8 in NBA history without winning an MVP at some point.

What does that mean? Forget about Rookie of the Year; Simmons is on track, statistically, to inhabit even more rarefied air.

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"He looks like he has a chance to be a once-in-a-generation talent," another league executive told B/R. "I don't know how the voting will go, but I think when you watch him play and how players react to him, he has a chance to be one of the great players in the game very soon.

"He has speed at that size that I don't think we've really ever seen," the exec said of the 6'10" Simmons. "His passing, understanding and IQ are really ridiculous. But he has speed at 250 pounds that we've only seen once, if that."

That being LeBron.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 9:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball against Michael Beasley #8 of the New York Knicks during the game at Madison Square Garden on April 9, 2018 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
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"It just makes him a totally different thing to deal with," the exec said. "Some of those plays when he's in transition and he can slow down to normal speed and then long-step you and ward you off with the upper body are just incredible. You thought you were fine, but you're not fine. You're down by the photographers."

The only thing Simmons doesn't do well yet is shoot, but as another executive pointed out, that's a skill that most young stars acquire over the years, a la Jason Kidd.

"They all become better shooters over time," he said.

And Simmons has other ways to make you pay.

"I think Ben has shown so far that if you help off of him, he will cut in a way that will kill you because he can see the open spot on the floor and has the feet to get to it," one of the execs said. "And he can finish on the move, and he can finish inside. All of a sudden, a half-court set feels like transition when Ben Simmons is coming downhill and catches it at the three-point line."

And the idea that Simmons' Rookie of the Year candidacy is suspect because he missed his entire first season, and thus shouldn't be considered a rookie, is…awfully silly.

"That's like not voting for Donovan Mitchell because he came out as a sophomore and Ben came out as a freshman," another Western Conference exec said. "It's ludicrous."

Voters tend to "make up their own rules," said another executive. "It didn't seem to matter with Blake Griffin. If people think Ben Simmons wouldn't have done a lot of this last season if he was healthy, that's crazy to me."

Seth Wenig/Associated Press/Associated Press

Here's something even wilder…but maybe not. If seasoned talent evaluators believe Simmons has a ceiling as high as LeBron's—and similar skill sets and physical attributes—then why all this buzz about the possibility James could give the Sixers a serious look when he opts out of his contract's final year as expected and hits free agency in July? Wouldn't LeBron and Simmons overlap in ways that go beyond having the same agent—ways that wouldn't fit basketball-wise?

"I don't think they'd fit," one of the Western Conference executives said. "But if LeBron would accept playing off the ball, that would be less wear and tear on him and would probably prolong his career. If he was willing to do that, I think it would work."

James, 33, has been the dominant force on every team he's been a part of since he stepped into the NBA in 2003. He has almost single-handedly carried the Cavaliers to the last three NBA Finals after four straight trips with the help of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

Miraculously, he has shown no signs of slowing down. But with 15 years under his belt and a basketball mind as sound as his body, rival executives believe James will look long and hard at this young Sixers team—especially Simmons—as a potential fountain of youth.

"He's probably thinking, You know what, I played 82 this year, which is something I've never done before," one of the execs said. "I've put up crazy numbers, and now I can play off the ball, not have as much wear and tear on my body, play productive minutes and prolong my career."

And the longer James can stay on the floor, especially with talent like Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and (potentially) Markelle Fultz, the more championships he'll have a chance to win.

"If he passes Jordan [in championships], it's not even a debate," one of the Western Conference GMs said. "He's the best ever."

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 6: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket against Markelle Fultz #20 of the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As usual, James has not addressed his impending free agency during the season. And none of the executives who spoke with B/R believe they know—or even LeBron knows—what he'll do.


"I bet he gives Philly a real look," one of the execs said. "He's smart. That one's got its challenges, but L.A. has its challenges too. I don't think the question with Philly is, 'Are those guys going to be good enough?' It's more questions about health.

"If Ben had played 80 this year and last year, and Joel had played 80 this year and last year, I don't think it would be a very hard decision for LeBron," he said. "But it's a factor, and you have to think about it."

One thing you don't have to think about is who should be the NBA Rookie of the Year. It's Simmons, and it's not close.

And if James leaves Cleveland again, this time to chase a few more titles with Simmons in Philly?

"You wouldn't be able to guard them," one of the Western Conference execs said. "I'll be glad I'm in the West." 

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