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NBA Draft Scouting 2016: Breaking down Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons
Every single year, young college basketball players enter the sport with insane expectations. They are called the next LeBron, treated like established superstars, and are expected to be the saviors of their respective programs, even for a year. This year, the nation's top recruit, Ben Simmons, fit that traditional mold but also shattered it in a variety of other ways. While many people were already treating him like the sport's prodigy and saw him as a lock for the No. 1 pick, he was different in many ways. First off, he was Australian-born, a country that has produced some solid NBA talent, but the superstars of the league. He was also going to LSU, a school that has consistently fielded good basketball teams, but rarely great ones and where football overshadows everything. And last off, he wasn't going to college to play for legends such as Coach K, John Calipari nor Tom Izzo. He was going to play for Johnny Jones, whose most recent stop before LSU was taking North Texas to heights they hadn't reached before. The results were mixed for Simmons in his one year of college basketball. He put up huge numbers, stuffed the stat sheets full and even helped lead LSU to an upset earlier in the year against Kentucky that seemed to signal the Tigers were serious threats. However, LSU never really found traction and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Being the star, Simmons was naturally blamed, and his jump shot frustrated NBA scouts. Poor academics contributed to a disappointing end to a season that saw fellow top pick possibility Brandon Ingram look terrific. Throughout the confusing journey to LSU and the move on to the next level, Simmons remains this Draft's most intriguing player, in a Draft with quite a bit of them. Is he really the next LeBron James, or a poor man's Lamar Odom? Can he be the savior of a single NBA franchise or simply be another young piece that doesn't pan out? Breaking down Simmons' game gives us an indication of what he may be on the next level.

Offense: Simmons is 6'10" with long arms and long legs, and that opens up his game to amazing offensive versatility. Simmons is especially lethal on the drive, where he uses his strength and power to get to the rim and finish through contact. He is good going left or right, and is able to read defenders' weaknesses and attack them. Simmons is a force in transition because of his amazing speed and stamina. He is constantly leaking out to make big plays, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the NBA, I don't expect him to be a guy fighting for defensive boards in the paint too often, I expect him to be looking for opportunities down the court. Simmons has shown that he can lead the offense, and be a great distributor. LSU didn't really have a natural point guard they loved this past year, so it was not uncommon for Jones to let Simmons take the ball up and just let him make plays; it was their most effective form of offense. Simmons showed that he could handle the ball very well for his frame, and he possesses great court vision. No NBA team should expect him to lead them in assists, but his feel for the game is impressive, and is something nobody can coach. The biggest and most severe issue of Simmons' game is his jump shot, which has already been oft-scrutinized. He didn't shoot a terrible percentage from the field this year, but his shot was still inconsistent and he never really looked comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court. That development of his jumper could mean the difference between becoming a star at the next level or really leveling out as a role player, it's that important. Simmons will not be able to use his power or athleticism the same way he did in college in the NBA. They are obviously valuable assets that can help him, but he will need to be able to stretch the floor somewhat if he is to succeed offensively. Many NBA players have entered the NBA with questions about their jump shots, and have actually improved. John Wall has grown as a shooter and is one of the best guards in the NBA, Demarcus Cousins has grown a deceptively strong mid-range game in addition to his strength in the post, and James Harden was not known as a deadeye shooter when he came out of Arizona State. Simmons will have to take some steps at the free throw line as well. He wasn't terrible by any means at the stripe while at LSU, but so much of his offensive game revolves around contact and he will get fouled quite a bit at the next level.

Defense: Few people are going to fall in love with Ben Simmons because of what he can do defensively. No NBA scout is going to make him the top pick because of one defensive play, but that doesn't mean his defensive abilities have to go unnoticed. Standing at 6'10" with his impressive mobility, Simmons has all the tools to be a force on defense as well as on offense. Simmons has large hands that may remind people of Kawhi Leonard's, which allow him to get in passing lanes and make plays. Simmons finished with two steals per game this year at LSU, and while NBA players are better ball-handlers and passers, it is still a good sign. It isn't expected that Simmons will be a power forward in the NBA, but that does not mean he can't be a force in the paint and make plays defensively. He averaged 0.8 blocks per game this past year, which obviously isn't a huge number. Considering that LSU didn't ask him to do much in terms of defense on the low block, it isn't surprising. However, Simmons still showed that he could alter shots with his incredibly long arms and play a role. He rotates very well, and knows how to play sound defense. Simmons may not be a difference-maker on the defensive end, though. There were plenty of times when LSU could have used one more stop to end a run or finish a game, and Simmons didn't provide it. That doesn't hurt him too much, in retrospect. NBA teams are not going to look for Simmons to be swatting shots left or right, nor picking off every pass, he just simply won't do that. He can get by in the NBA by making some plays and not making mistakes, and he can also use his athleticism to make big plays in transition defense.

Bottom Line: No 18 or 19-year old basketball player is going to be without flaws, that is obvious. And, Simmons does have his fair share of flaws. Simmons' jump shot is going to be interesting to watch as he grows. Can some NBA team help him nail it and help him evolve into a stretch four, or all-around three? Or will it be the one thing in his career that holds him back? There really isn't enough to tell, right now. Even with that looming over his head, Simmons has the chance to be special. His athleticism and strength is something special, and he plays basketball in a smooth and smart style. For so many NBA teams, he would be a valuable addition that could help push them over the top in the near future.

Prospect Rank: No. 3 in Draft
Strengths: Athleticism, incredibly high ceiling, force on glass, vision, solid defender
Weaknesses: Unrefined jumper, needs to continue to improve at free throw line, tweener
Where He'll Go: No. 1 overall to Philadelphia

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