2015-16 Season Stats:
56% from the field
33% from three
68% from the free-throw line
Weight: 225 pounds Height w/shoes: 6′ 10″. Wingspan: 7'0.25″. Max Vert: 41.5
LeBron James/Blake Griffin/Draymond Green
Derrick Williams/Michael Beasley
Prime Boris Diaw/Prime Lamar Odom/Evan Turner
Ben Simmons is the best point guard in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he's almost a seven-footer. Simmons has transcendent potential, but he also has a very obvious (and correctable) flaw that could impede him from reaching that status. The good far outweighs the bad, so we'll start with the latter so we can gush on the former right after.
Ben Simmons cannot shoot. This is the biggest complaint that mainstream media pins on him, but it honestly isn't that big of a deal, especially at the collegiate level. The biggest concern with his status as a non-shooter is that while he can get to the rim at will against college defenders, it'll be much tougher to do that against arguably the best athletes in the world in the NBA. Another way to look at it is from the foul perspective. As a rookie, Simmons is not going to get some of the "gimme" calls that he gets at the semi-pro level currently. Just being as physically dominant as he is with his size, college referees are inclined to give him calls. He won't be able to ref-bait in the NBA (not early on, at least). With that being said, his shooting struggles are exaggerated a tad. He's not a complete space-killer on offense, but he will force coaches to get a little creative with how they use him in order to maximize his strengths and minimize his weakness.
In a game against Auburn (Feb. 2) when Simmons dropped 21 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists, he calmly knocked down a couple of mid-range jumpers. Even if Simmons never develops the 3-point range on a consistent basis, smart teams can use him in a similar fashion that Utah uses Derrick Favors, how Boston uses Evan Turner, or even how Brooklyn uses Thaddeus Young. These players are all masters of the mid-range shot in a league that is shying away from that, and it's helping their teams win because of their superior sense of spacing. If Simmons develops the same touch and feel from that range, the floor will open up for him, and he'll mitigate his lack of 3-point range. Another idea that Simmons could try would be to switch to shooting jumpers with his off hand (he's left-handed). He converts at the rim at a high percentage with his off hand, so it's worth an attempt. Kevin O'Connor goes into more detail here with an excellent article that examines Simmons' shooting and the merits of switching shooting hands.
The shooting woes (which aren't really woes. The biggest effect is on LSU's spacing which is already pretty bad. Simmons has only attempted three 3-pointers this season) don't concern me that much. What really concerns me is Simmons' mental state. LSU certainly isn't lighting the world on fire with their basketball skills, and in games where the team looks to Simmons to lead, he lets them down on occasion. When the game doesn't go his way, he pouts, displaying poor body language. Also, breaking news: he's a 19-year-old young man, so of course we can't expect undying professionalism on the court, but it's not impossible either. When he's the undeniable leader on this LSU team, he has to take the responsibility seriously with the highs and lows. Being touted as a franchise-altering player in this year's draft will not change that, so he's gotta get used to it. Another complaint would be that he defers too much. Simmons is a phenomenal passer, but he's got to understand when he's got to look to score. No one in college basketball can defend him one-on-one, and there will be times in the NBA when he's got an obvious mismatch. There's no need to dump the ball off to get a teammate a contested look when he's 10 feet from the basket in post position. He has to attack.
Simmons has the physical tools to be a great defender, but again, when the game doesn't go his way, his defense wanes, and he loses motivation. His motor has a conditional timer on both ends of the floor, and that won't cut it. If Simmons can get his mental blocks dealt with, there's barely any negative left to criticize.
Alright, on to the positives: Ben Simmons is awesome. This guy is the definition of showtime personified as a basketball player. He wows you at almost every turn, especially in transition. He's an elite talent on fast break opportunities, and the best part is that he doesn't just turbo his way to the rim every time. Simmons uses an astounding mixture of change-of-pace dribbles, in-and-out dribbles, cold, hard passes to cutting teammates, and awe-inspiring behind-the-back passes to trailing teammates. There honestly is not a pass that he can't make. He's the best floor general in this year's draft class, and he commands the attention of the defense at all times.
One reason why Simmons is a nightly triple-double threat is because he is really good at making simple passes. Rajon Rondo leads the league in assists per game because he makes simple passes perfectly, and Simmons has picked up on that. Hitting teammates exactly where they need to be is tough, but Simmons does an excellent job making easy passes right on the money, helping teammates get into a good shooting rhythm. Another thing Simmons does well is his ability to get to the rim at will. Earlier, I expressed doubt at Simmons' ability to get calls at the next level, but there will be many plays where it doesn't matter because he'll make plays in the paint anyway, and whether or not he gets the call won't matter. On defense, Simmons, when he's focused and locked in, has great tools to shut down opposing forwards. He has great combination of speed and strength, so he can tackle all kinds of players (not literally). Ben Simmons will need to work on his lateral quickness and explosiveness, but there's little reason to worry once he gets into NBA weight rooms.
Conclusion: Ben Simmons can be a world-crushing, universe-dominating, franchise-saving cornerstone if he gets his mind right and works around his shooting weakness. A good coaching staff will help him tremendously, but the onus is on him. If he can, Simmons can undoubtedly thrive as a star in this league. He could really make a difference.