As the offseason continues, I will be taking a look at some of the top prospects in next year’s draft, profiling those who are highly regarded and detailing how they got to this point in their respective careers.
In the first part of this series, I take a look at a talented Australian forward with the versatility to dominate the college game immediately in forward Ben Simmons.
It all started with a phone call.
Simmons’ godfather, David Patrick, now an assistant coach at LSU, made a call to Pangos Camp director Dinos Trigonis calling Simmons “the best rising freshman in the world.”
That comment alone warranted a further look, and Simmons path to stardom began after looking like the best overall prospect at the event as a 15-year old freshman featuring seniors and future NBA first round picks like Stanley Johnson, Kevon Looney, Zach LaVine and Jarell Martin.
Simmons showed his patented all-around ability at the Pangos camp that now makes him arguably the number one freshman entering college basketball next year. Simmons’ ability to make plays with the ball in his hands and create match up problems at a 6-foot-8 was eye-opening for scouts and media in attendance.
This was only the beginning, though. Simmons has impressed in events such as the Adidas Nations, FIBA U-17 World Championships and playing basketball overseas before finally heading to the United States to attend Montverde Academy in Florida in January 2013. Ten months later, he would commit to LSU, where his godfather, David Patrick, had recently accepted an assistant coaching position in 2012.
At Montverde, Simmons won three national high school championships in three years, suffering only one loss in games he played. He’s been the Naismith Trophy Boys High School Player of the Year, the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year and the Morgan Wooten Award winner. Simmons was also invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit, and at each stop, he continued to impress.
Simmons is squarely on the map as a top NBA prospect and should be a top three pick in the 2016 draft, barring injuries. The Australian former rugby player has grown in both height and skill, flashing elite passing ability and handles rarely seen on a 6-foot-10, 230-pound frame. Simmons has surprising athleticism, speed and coordination running the floor. His overall game is very advanced and mature for a 19-year old, and LSU should be able to run their offense through him immediately.
When looking at potential weaknesses at the NBA level, it’s hard to nit-pick. He’s a little bit of a tweener, at 6-9 with only a 6-11 wingspan – which might make finishing in traffic, shooting over and defending longer forwards an issue. Simmons has good shooting mechanics as a lefty, but gaining consistency from the perimeter is also an area he could stand to improve, especially with the extended three-point line in the NBA.
Regardless, Simmons looks like a modern-day NBA player thanks to his versatility. The NBA is moving closer and closer to position-less basketball, where it’s become more crucial that every player on the floor has the skills to play multiple roles. Enter Simmons – a combo forward who can initiate offense, run the pick-and-roll, slice opposing defenses with a pass and make plays in the open floor. These skills will make him a terror in the NBA and ease the transition from college to pro.
It’s only a matter of time before Simmons’ name is well-known among the average fan. LSU should be very good next year despite the loss of two well-regarded front court players who left early for the NBA in forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Simmons attracted two highly touted 6-4 guards to flip schools in Antonio Blakeney (who played AAU with Simmons) and Brandon Sampson from Louisville and St. Johns, respectively.
LSU also return versatile junior wing Tim Quarterman and a 7-foot, 300-pound sophomore center in Elbert Robinson III to provide shot blocking behind the playmaking Simmons. The roster is young, but should be ready to compete by March, thanks to the solid core surrounding Simmons.
Not very often can a team rebound from front court losses like LSU, but if there’s anything we’ve learned about Simmons in the past, it’s that he’s a winner and will make an immediate impact not only next year, but for years down the line for some lucky team at the NBA level.