For months now, every lottery bound NBA team has had their eyes set on Ben Simmons, the freshman do-it-all point forward from LSU. With a build resembling that of LeBron James and passing skills on par with Magic Johnson, Simmons has everyone intrigued and watching. Fans in Philadelphia root for The Process, in order to get their hands on the seemingly once-in-a-lifetime prospect, while Celtics fans grin at the demise of the Nets, having obtained Brooklyn’s pick in the famous 2013 blockbuster trade involving Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. But for avid draft enthusiasts, LSU’s conference matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats and their superb recruiting class presented an opportunity to see Simmons in action against his toughest opponent this season. Ultimately, it was unranked LSU who pulled the upset, defeating No.9 Kentucky 85-67. In this article, I will be providing some analysis on Simmons and how he fared in this matchup.
The man everyone’s eyes are on: Ben Simmons. Although his LSU team had gotten off to an 8-5 start prior to this game, the Australian-born Simmons was not the root of their problems. Averaging 20.5 points per game to go along with 13.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, Simmons has launched himself to the top of nearly every draft board. I spoke with one person close to the scouting process who told me that Simmons “is number one on everyone’s list. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing, there’s no way he is not the first pick”. Simmons can get into the paint with ease. Often times, he uses his size and wingspan to grab rebounds, then uses his speed and handles to go coast to coast to finish at the rim. He also draws a lot of fouls, averaging over eight free throws per game. With elite court vision, Simmons is also able to find his teammates open shots. Unfortunately, the talent surrounding Simmons is subpar, but with better talent, I’m sure his assist numbers would be even higher.
Unfortunately, Simmons has two weaknesses that have already been exposed at the college level. The first is his jump shot, or lack thereof. Approximately 35% of his shots are jumpers, yet he shoots just 32% on those shots. In an expanding NBA, where the three point shots is more important than ever, Simmons would struggle, as just 2% of his attempts are from three point range. Simmons, a lefty, does shoot 75% on free throws, so his mechanics are not entirely broken, but it’s possible that his percentages are down due to a poor shot-base and lift off the dribble. However, his ability to easily get into the paint and finish is the main thing boosting his overall field goal percentage to 57%. NBA defenders are better than NCAA defenders though, so Simmons will need to improve his jumper to remain effective in the NBA. Some people are also calling Simmons passive on the offensive end, despite his gaudy scoring numbers. I would not go so far as to call him “passive”, but certainly at times he seems to get uninvolved with the scoring process. He almost seems too unselfish, always trying to find ways to open up scoring opportunities for his teammates. That is fine, but with the talent that he has, he needs to have less frequent periods of offensive quietness.
His second weakness is his defense. Some say that he lacks energy and passion on the defensive end, but I feel this varies. As an on ball defender on the wings, Simmons is able to pressure his opponent and force bad shots or turnovers. In the post, however, is where Simmons’s weaknesses on defense are seen. He is a poor interior defender, and strong post players have easily bodied him out of the way many times. He is a bit slow in his rotations as well, although this is less of an issue. Simmons does a good job of keeping his hands up in the post when shots go up, but he needs to work on making it harder for the opponent to gain a good stance. At times, it does seem as though Simmons does not try very hard on defense, but this could also be fatigue in games. Simmons projects to be an interior defender in the NBA, so he will need to be stronger down low.
In this game, all eyes were on Simmons, but the first half was not that great, especially by the standards he has set due to his play. Early on, Simmons handled the ball frequently, and showed his vision by setting up a couple of his teammates for easy finishes at the rim. With a height advantage over his defenders, he was easily able to throw accurate passes to his teammates. Simmons also pulled down four rebounds quickly, and ran the fast break at times too.
Defensively, Simmons stood his ground. He did not jump on fakes, and kept his long arms up when his matchup took a shot. He also seemed to have good defensive IQ, as he was able to set himself up and draw a charge early in the game too. He still needs to do a better job of playing off-ball defense, as he was late in his rotations a few times. In terms of scoring, Simmons deferred to his teammates. As stated above, this is a problem with Simmons’s game. In an important conference game against Kentucky, Simmons should have a leader-mentality, ready to take over the game. Instead, we saw him passing up opportunities to drive and draw fouls. Simmons took and made only one shot in the first half, a good post up shot with his right hand (his off hand, but you could never tell that in game). Unfortunately, we only saw him play for 9 of the 20 minutes in the first half, as he got into foul trouble early on. On one possession, Kentucky center Skal Labissiere gave Simmons a shove as they were running up the court, but the referees did not see/call anything. On the next possession, Simmons countered with a mini- punch to Labissiere’s stomach, but the referee’s saw this incident, and charged Simmons with a foul. He then received a shooting foul a few minutes later, and coach Johnny Jones decided to sub out Simmons to ensure he didn’t receive a third foul before halftime. Although his playing time had a role in his mediocre first half stat-line, I would still have liked to see Simmons play with more fire and aggression. He finished the first half with 2 points on 1-1 shooting, along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. However, the second half saw a more aggressive Simmons. He ran more isolation plays and was able to get to the free throw line with ease, with six attempts in only the second half. He was able to create numerous mismatches in the post, but he did not seem to really call for the ball a lot. Simmons needs to realize how much of an advantage he has in these situations and use them to his advantage more (i.e. Do not be so passive). Perhaps Simmons’s best stretch was in the last few minutes of the game, when Kentucky was slowly crawling back into the game. Simmons took matters into his own hands and went on a personal 6-0 run, effectively putting Kentucky to bed, while raising the momentum and energy of the entire stadium. Simmons battled multiple defenders on two back to back drives, and hammered home a putback dunk off a missed three pointer to seal the game.
Overall, it is easy to see why Ben Simmons is the most talked-about player in college basketball. His unique mix of size, basketball IQ, scoring prowess, and passing skills have not been seen in college basketball for years now. Simmons has the potential to become an immensely successful player in the NBA, but that can only happen if he improves the aspects of his game holding him back (his jump shot and his aggressiveness). Regardless, Ben Simmons is an elite prospect, and any team drafting him will have no regrets.
By: Saeed Ghassemzadeh