Every year, there’s a new “next LeBron James” in college basketball. Two years ago it was either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, depending on who you asked. Last year, it was Jahlil Okafor.
This year’s “LeBron James” is LSU’s Ben Simmons, a 6-foot-10 forward out of Australia who can do anything on a basketball court. And unlike past players, he might at least have a claim to being in the same league. Simmons is the sure-fire No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
In fairness to Simmons, we shouldn’t apply the “LeBron James” tag to anyone, because nobody is LeBron James. They’re different players with different strengths, even though both are forwards who can also handle the ball. But Simmons is an incredibly intriguing prospect because of how many different things he can do.
Simmons is averaging 20.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, and after eight straight games with at least 10 points, fresh off a 36-point performance at Vanderbilt, he gets to prove himself against the ultimate test — Kentucky, which is used to having players of Simmons’ caliber, not facing them.
Other than his size and athleticism, what makes Simmons so great is his ability to do just about everything. He’s nationally ranked in nearly every advanced statistic on KenPom.com, and of those who have played at least 40 percent of available minutes, he’s the best on his team in virtually every statistic.
|Metric||Min %||Off rating||eFG %||O-RB%||D-RB%||Assist rate||Block %||Steal %||Fouled/ 40min|
Most 6-foot-10 players aren’t capable of putting up this kind of stat line, but it’s what makes Simmons impossible to defend. He can shoot the ball, and he can rebound, but he’s also a distributor. In fact, he’s even broken the KenPom algorithm. Despite typically being the tallest LSU player on the floor, KenPom lists him as a point guard, because the entire offense starts and ends with him.
When at his best, Simmons is a matchup nightmare. When he dribbles down the court on a fast break with, he will make opponents pay by going straight to the rim.
The only solution? Go all-out on guarding Simmons, both on the fast break and in the half court. But that means not only defending one of the few 6-foot-10 people in the world who have the athleticism to beat you, but also defending a player who has the vision to get the rest of his team involved.
Most point guards can’t make this pass — Simmons can and he’s 6-foot-10.
Simmons the rebounder is solid. Simmons the fast break general is awesome. Simmons the facilitator is as good as any other point guard in college basketball. Simmons the shooter? It’s the one thing holding him back from being totally unguardable.
While Simmons has proven his mettle as a scorer — 36 against Vanderbilt, 21 against Wake Forest and Marquette, 43 against North Florida — and he does have a good shooting percentage — he is very selective about his shots. Part of that is simply smart basketball, but part of it is because Simmons gets very shaky as a shooter when he ventures outside the paint, according to Shot Analytics.
This is where Simmons lags behind James and other top NBA players — he’s not a top shooter.
However, shooting is fixable, and that’s what should have fans so excited about Simmons’ future. He’s a forward, a center, an elite transition player and a point guard all in one.
And because he brings so many different assets to the table, Simmons will be able to help out immediately in nearly every facet of the game once he goes to the NBA. Unlike Wiggins, Parker or Okafor, Simmons has the true ability to take over a game.
A big point-forward who can facilitate an offense and dictate the entire game? Sounds a lot like someone in Cleveland. And while he’s not there yet, Simmons truly does have all the tools to become the next big player we’ve been hoping to get for the past few year.