Why Ben Simmons is still the number one prospect

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The two top prospects for this year’s NBA draft, back in 2015 warming up for the McDonald’s All American high school all-star game. Left: Brandon Ingram, Right: Ben Simmons

Here’s a riddle: what do you call a 6’10, 240 pound power forward, with the strength of a solid big man, the athleticism of a prototype wing player, and the passing ability of an elite point guard?

Basketball’s version of a unicorn.

Ben Simmons was initially labeled the number one prospect out of high school in almost every rankings list a person could find. Hailing from Australia, Simmons’ father Dave, was a pro basketball player.

After living his whole life in Australia, Simmons transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida his sophomore year of high school. There, he became a prep school phenom winning three national champions in a row and getting national tournament MVP honors his junior and senior year. He even drew comparisons to one of the sport’s all-time greats, Lebron James. Simmons and fellow Montverde alumni, and Lakers guard, D’Angelo Russell, put the school on the map as one of the new high school basketball powerhouses.

After high school, Simmons went on to Louisiana State University, better known as LSU. Where he, as the most highly touted prospect in years, had the tough task of revitalizing a team that just lost its two best players.

Despite having one of the greatest statistical seasons in NCAA basketball history, Simmons failed to lead the 18-13 Tigers to the NCAA tournament. He ended up averaging 19.2 points per game, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2 steals, and .8 blocks, while shooting 56% from the field. As a freshman, he declared for the draft as expected.

As the NCAA season ended, there has been talk that what seemed like the unanimous number one pick in the NBA Draft, is now being called the unanimous number two pick.

There are several analysts that believe Duke’s freshman forward, Brandon Ingram, is surpassing Simmons in prospect status.

Ingram, the number three prospect out of high school on the ESPN 100, is 6’9 with a 7’3 wingspan. He was long considered a lock for number two on draft boards, drawing comparisons to elite NBA talent Kevin Durant.

Ingram has excelled this season, and can do some things Simmons can’t. For example, despite being a freakishly long and tall human being, Ingram can shoot the lights out. He shot 41% from beyond the three point line, while Simmons only shot three shots from beyond all year. His weak jump shot is perhaps the biggest worry in the next stage, because the ever-evolving NBA style of play.

Simmons also only has a 6’11 wingspan which is considered slightly undersized for an NBA big. It limits him from blocking a lot of shots at the next level, while Ingram on the other hand utilizes his length perfectly averaging 1.4 blocks per game this season. That in itself is extremely impressive for a wing player.

Other complaints among scouts were his lack of leadership, competitiveness, and mental strength.

First of all, anyone who expects a 19 year old kid to step on to a team of guys his age or older and lead right away is crazy. It happens sometimes and those kind of kids are special, but it’s not particularly the norm. Traits like leadership come with time and maturity.

The competitive knock is something that just isn’t true. It doesn’t seem that he disappears at the end of big games, it’s just that he lets other primary ball handlers take over. He just doesn’t demand the ball when people think he should. One example was in the huge game vs. Oklahoma. It was a tight game with time ticking down at the end of the second half when LSU guard Tim Quarterman took it upon himself, and didn’t even look for Simmons at all. The next possession, the same thing happened where Simmons wasn’t even looked at. It didn’t really make sense.

As far as mental strength goes, it’s a difficult trait to measure. Simmons has been under a tremendous microscope since he was seventeen. Turns out being called the generation’s next superstar before you can even legally take yourself to the doctor’s can be difficult. No other player in college has gotten this much attention, so mentally weak isn’t exactly the word. Maybe he just isn’t used to the immense amount of attention that college brings, but he better adjust quickly if he isn’t.

I think this year was less about winning for him, and more about just getting to the NBA as he has willingly said if he was able to, he would’ve gone straight to the league out of high school.

The point is, Ben Simmons is still the top NBA prospect and the unanimous number one pick. It’s extremely rare that you find a guy that big with that combination of handles, court vision, athleticism, and ability to finish at the rim.

Things so far as leadership, mental toughness, and jump shot are able to be fixed. People often forget that NBA legend Jason Kidd’s jumper was questioned coming out of college as well, and now he sits top 5 in history in three pointers made. The league has often seen jumpers improve and people should have faith in Simmons’ ability.

Doubters will be silenced for Simmons will wow the NBA for years to come, with his flashy playmaking, willful around-the-rim game, and his exciting transition play.

Simmons might not fit with one team in the running for first pick. Philadelphia is very dry when it comes to shooters, so he wouldn’t be the best pick for the Sixers. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take talent over fit like they have in years prior.

Despite that scenario, fans should hear Ben Simmons’ name first at June’s NBA Draft.