G'day mates! Just who is this Ben Simmons guy anyway?
The NBA Draft will be held in less than two months, yet I feel like I don't know nearly enough about the players in the draft. Maybe it's because most of the top players didn't even get to perform in March Madness when their team failed to qualify. And most of us only turn on the college basketball when March Madness starts. By then, top prospects like Simmons were already done playing.
To wit, I knew more about the Stain Train at this time last year than I knew about top prospect Ben Simmons before prepping for this prospect preview.
You remember the Stain Train right?
Matt Stainbrook made a name for himself during the tournament and nearly got himself drafted before the clock struck midnight on his NBA chances. After the draft, he played some summer ball and worked out for a few NBA teams but didn't make a roster. Here he is in an NBA practice uniform.
This kid never played in the NBA, but I'm guessing you know more about Matt's strengths and weaknesses than those of the 2016 Draft's top prospect Ben Simmons.
The Suns currently own the 4th overall pick - when Simmons will be long gone - but the Draft Lottery held mid-May might just smile on the Suns for once and make a top pick a reality. The Suns have never drafted #1 overall (thanks but no thanks, Mr. Coin!), and haven't drafted as high as #2 since 1987 (Hello, Armen).
While hope still floats, let's get the top two prospects out of the way, starting with Australian export Ben Simmons.
My goal in this piece is somehow try to make Ben Simmons more of a known quantity to you than Matt Stainbrook.
On the up side
The 6'10" Ben Simmons is uber-talented. Not Stainbrook-like, but talented in the sense that he has more talent in his body than most anyone on the planet. Think of a 2005-06 Boris Diaw, or Lamar Odom.
As a freshman at LSU, Simmons not only averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds, but he dished 4.8 assists per game too. That makes him the first college player to post 19/11/4 since Ron Harper back in 1986. He is an incredible athlete who is great in the open floor and has the body control to score in the paint on a regular basis.
In the NBA, as a multi-talented forward, he could really mess up opponents' rotations in a unique front court role as secondary playmaker. And you know the Suns need all the passing they can get. He could be like a Lamar Odom in his prime, or like a former incredibly talented forward from the Suns' Seven-seconds-or-less heyday who was a nightly triple-double threat.
On the down side
He left the LSU program and signed with Klutch Sports (Bledsoe's agent) right after his team's disappointing season ended at 19-14. This was before the NIT started, prompting LSU to bow out of all postseason tourneys altogether.
Is that a red flag on Simmons? Or on the LSU program? Depends on who you ask. Neither seems blameless in this fiasco.
On the basketball court, Simmons major flaw is that he cannot shoot. Like, at all. He can score near the rim, he can draw free throws (9.2 per game), he can handle the ball like a wing player, and he can pass like crazy. But he can't shoot outside of three feet.
Which, in the NBA, makes him something like a bigger Corey Maggette, except with passing skills of Diaw. Let's just hope he's not Michael Beasley.
Also, he has little interest in playing defense. Which isn't unusual for a player whose been lights years better than his competition all his life, but still a potential for concern with Devin Booker already penciled in as a 15-year starter.
On the really, really down side
Few articles this damning nature have ever been written about top prospects. The way this piece reads, you'd think Simmons texted Jonathan Givony's mother.
You should click the link and read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt or two.
Here's what NBA teams wonder: If Simmons cares so little about winning crucial college road games at Tennessee or Kentucky that could have delivered LSU to the NCAA tournament, how much will he consistently care about competing over a far more physically and mentally draining 82-game pro season?
One NBA executive described him as a "taller Rajon Rondo, a more athletic Evan Turner, or a skinnier Royce White."
The concerns about Simmons' character didn't magically appear the moment he arrived on campus in Baton Rouge. Those sentiments also have been expressed by members of the Australian national team who have spent time with him at the junior and senior levels. Australian players and coaches who have been around him don't speak about him in flattering terms, calling him "the Yank" to highlight how different he is compared with most of the players from that country, and perhaps highlight how much moving to the United States at a young age and immersing himself in the AAU world has shaped him.
Interesting about the AAU mention. Here's Steve Kerr talking about his views of the AAU culture just last week.
Steve Kerr's thoughts on AAU basketball.... pic.twitter.com/VtlqRx83Qu— CoachBook (@CoachBook) April 21, 2016
Draft Express ranks him #2
Simmons has now dropped to #2 overall on DX, behind Brandon Ingram, though he's still #1 on many other boards. While this draft has been reputed to be even worse than the 2013 Draft, the quality of talent at the top has never been questioned like it was in 2013. Simmons and Ingram are better than anyone at the top of the 2013 Draft.
Let's watch DX compare him to past top NBA prospects.
Interesting that they compare Simmons favorably to Lamar Odom, "young" Boris Diaw and Blake Griffin in the open floor. They use Odom and Diaw for evidence of open floor playmaking, and Griffin again as a comp on fast break finishing. Suffice to say, the Suns would be a lot of fun to watch in the open court again with a dynamic big man.
He used Beasley as a comp for the ambidexterity, and LeBron James along with Odom and Diaw for his court vision in tight spaces. He used Griffin again, as well as Beasley, for comps on rebounding.
Watch the video - it's quite interesting.
Ben Simmons just might be the best prospect in the Draft, and might be unique enough to make him an impossible cover in the NBA if he learn to shoot over smaller defenders. Young Boris Diaw couldn't shoot either, but wreaked havoc against opponents anyway and averaged 13/6/6 in his second NBA season as the Suns won 54 games and made the Conference Finals.
Frankly, that's the kind of player I see Ben Simmons being: a young Boris Diaw. And we all know how fun that was to watch Boris in 2005-06, don't we?
Should the Suns draft Simmons?
Of course they should. As long as Brandon Ingram is already off the board, it's not even a question. I know I ranked Simmons above Ingram the other day, but the ranking is so close that I'd only "of course" draft Simmons if I didn't have to think long and hard about Ingram.
Here's the latest from ESPN
1. Ben Simmons
Previous rank: No. 1
Simmons has now held down the No. 1 spot on our Big Board seven straight times, but what used to be a consensus has strongly eroded. More and more scouts are jumping ship to Team Brandon Ingram as questions about Simmons' shooting, defense and drive abound.
NBA draft 2016: Complete coverage
From prospect projections to the lottery and draft night, ESPN.com has complete coverage of the 2016 NBA draft.
However, with draft workouts and interviews coming, at least one GM thinks he's about to get his mojo back.
"I think he's going to remind us how special he really is," one GM said. "I think he'll be a different player in the NBA. I love Ingram. Would love to have him on my team. But to my team, Simmons is the one guy in this draft that could be a superstar. I'm not sure how you pass on that."
Simmons is a unique talent, just like Diaw was unique. Like Diaw, Simmons can create offense from a point-forward position that defenses won't be able to plan for. He's just not like anyone else. I can see Simmons winning an ROY and putting up 15/6/6 numbers as a rookie. Simmons is taller than Diaw, rebounds better, and runs the open floor a lot better.
However, like Boris, he doesn't seem to have the burning desire at this point to lead his team to a championship by himself. But that doesn't make him a bad player. Boris liked to be one of the guys. He'd make a spectacular play, then disappear on the next possession. By the end of the game, he had a few highlights and made a difference.
That's the kind of player we would need to expect in Simmons. Not a sure-fire superstar, but possibly a cog in a very tough-to-defend offense that exceeds expectations from day one.