I truly believe Ben Simmons is going to be the #1 overall pick. Simmons is too talented, has too much star potential for the 76ers to pass on him.
Philly has been waiting for the moment to grab this type of player for too long; they have
suffered trusted the process through too much. But Brandon Ingram may tempt them. Just as he’s the best of both worlds prospect for the Lakers, he offers the same appeal to every other team in the draft, including Philly.
Even if the odds are low the Lakers end up with the chance to draft Simmons, it’s worthwhile to explore him as a prospect and his fit on the team.
There is a reason Simmons has been considered the top prospect in this draft since before he was even a freshman at LSU. Physically, Simmons already has an “NBA” body. Standing 6’10” and weighing 240 pounds with a 8’11” standing reach and a 7’0.5″ wingspan, Simmons has really good physical tools. Combine those tools with his superior athleticism and the result is the type of rarely seen specimen whose potential jumps off the screen when you watch him on tape.
Simmons runs like a gazelle and jumps out of the gym. The way he changes ends, with or without the ball, is phenomenal and leads to the types of open court chances he thrives on.
This really cannot be overstated: Simmons ability to push the ball with speed dribbles or fill the lane on the wing and be a high level finisher in either scenario, at his size, creates the types problems defenses have a hard time solving. As he gets even physically stronger by further filling into his frame, the type of fear he will incite in the open court has the chance of mirroring what players like Westbrook and LeBron inspire.
Besides leveraging his athleticism in the open court offensively, he also can do so on the other end on the backboards and defensively. He’s shown a good ability to step out and defend on the perimeter, both when guarding his own man or when stepping out in the pick and roll. He has shown good instincts and anticipation in the passing lanes and can turn opponents’ hasty decisions into easy baskets going the other way.
His most special trait, though, isn’t is size, ball handling, defensive potential, or ability to finish in the paint. It’s his passing. Simmons possesses the rare combination of being a willing and instinctive passer, but with the size of a power forward. It’s one thing to find players like this at point guard or even in pure wings, but Simmons is a PF/SF who can pass in the open court, out of isolation from the top of the floor, and from the post when working the block. He can see plays developing ahead of time and has shown that rare court sense of being able to pass his teammates into open shots.
Simmons is not without weakness, however. At this stage of his development, his jumper is not good. Be it because of an over-reliance on his ability to get to the rim, a lack of confidence, or a combination of both, Simmons showed little inclination to be a proactive jump shooter at LSU. He often turned down open shots to try and force his way to the basket and when he did end up shooting the results were not great.
Beyond his shooting woes, in the 2nd half of his college season, questions about his motor and commitment started to surface. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express and The Vertical expressed many of those concerns (and more) back in March and some of those concerns persist with only a week until the draft.
As I write this the NBA Finals are headed to a game 7 mostly on the back of the competitive drive and skill of LeBron James. Many look at Simmons’ size + skill combination and like to compare him to James, but if there are questions about Simmons’ drive to win or to be a great player (and not just a highlight machine), those are not critiques which have hounded James — especially not in the early portion of his career.
Do these things give me some pause? Of course. But I am a big believer in talent. And when the proper structure is provided to nurture and develop that talent, those concerns start to melt away.
For the Lakers, then, I would embrace Simmons. Yes, his future is likely at power forward — the same position Julius Randle plays. No, his shooting is not refined at this point which leads to questions about spacing. Further, he’s a player who is at his best with the ball in his hands which is also true of Russell, Clarkson, and Randle (not to mention Lou Williams and we haven’t even gotten to free agency yet).
His fit, at this point, is not ideal and there would be a fair amount of kinks to work out, long term, for the Lakers and Simmons to mesh in a way where the roster would be optimized with him as a focal point. And while this matters, it doesn’t particularly phase me all that much.
Because whether or not you believe Simmons is the type of generational talent who can transform a franchise by himself (I don’t know how anyone would know this for sure, by the way), his skill set is fantastic and unique while his ceiling is incredibly high. The key attributes he possesses — the athleticism, passing, feel for the game — aren’t really things you can teach. The things he currently lacks, skill wise — namely, his shooting — are things you can improve.
This doesn’t mean he will improve, of course. But, I’d bet that he does and I’d be more than happy to have the opportunity to see him get the chance to do so on the Lakers.