Thanks to our friends at Krossover, here's a quick look at how Ben Simmons looked prior to entering college. One of the top prospects in the high school class of 2015, Simmons made waves at LSU with his combination of athleticism and versatility, but before that, he stood out in the EYBL.
Jonathan Givony joins Colin Cowherd on "the Herd" (FS1 and FOX Sports Radio) to discuss Ben Simmons and his candidacy as the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
They talk about the article Givony wrote on the Vertical about Simmons and the red flags that have emerged around him, digging deeper into Simmons' background prior to LSU, and discussing the NBA Draft scouting process in general.
Video Analysis by Mike Schmitz. Scouting Report by Jonathan Givony
Ben Simmons is fresh off one of the most productive college seasons in recent memory, being the first player to average over 19 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists per game since Ron Harper did so as a senior at Miami Ohio back in 1986.
While Simmons put up terrific numbers individually, he struggled to help his team win games consistently at the college level, finishing the season a disappointing 19-14. After a blowout loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament semifinals, LSU's season came to an end and Simmons' future became very clear when it was revealed he will be hiring LeBron James' agent to represent him in the draft.
In terms of talent, there is quite a bit to like in Simmons' profile.
He has ample size at 6'10, and a sturdy frame at around 240 pounds. While he does not possess great length, with a wingspan measured between 6'11 and 7'0, he is one of the most fluid and coordinated athletes you'll find.
Simmons has superb quickness, incredible body control, long strides and can operate at different speeds in a nearly unprecedented way for a player his size. Few players in recent memory are as effective at grabbing a defensive rebound and igniting the fast break as Simmons is, and a sky-high 26% of his offensive possessions comes in these situations according to Synergy Sports Technology.
In the half-court, Simmons is much more of a mixed bag. He saw some success operating with his back to the basket this season, but struggled when asked to act as a primary ball-handler and facilitator in pick and roll and isolation situations, partially due to LSU's very poor spacing.
Simmons' best traits in the half-court revolves around his tremendous ball-handling and passing ability, as he has outstanding court vision and a knack for finding open teammates with bullet passes. He's one of just five players (Luke Walton, Danny Ferry, Nick Thompson and Jerald Honeycutt) in our extensive NCAA database to average over 5 assists per-40 minutes while standing 6'9 or taller, and is the only one to do so as a freshman.
While Simmons doesn't show much range as a shooter, he has excellent touch with either hand around the basket, being highly creative and acrobatic with the way he can finish plays, sometimes above the rim with a head of steam. His average length and propensity for avoiding contact around the rim hurts his percentages as a finisher inside the paint (he converted a just-decent 55% of his attempts here in the half-court), but he is such a mismatch at his size that he's able to draw a huge amount of fouls and free throw attempts (9.8 per-40) to compensate.
He also shows some ability to score inside the post with right-handed jump hooks and excellent footwork. He is devastating operating in isolation situations from the mid-post area as he's simply too quick and too creative with the ball for most big men to stay in front of. College opponents negated that somewhat by putting smaller players on him as the season moved on and double-teaming the post, but things could be different in the NBA with better spacing, superior teammates and more creative coaching adjustments than we saw this season.
While Simmons makes his free throw attempts at a decent rate (67% at LSU), his outside shooting has always been considered the biggest weakness in his game. He's a 12/50 (24%) 3-point shooter in the 74 career games we have data on since he first appeared on the scene at the 2012 FIBA U-17 World Championship, and hasn't shown much progress in the past four years in this area, which is a major red-flag in today's NBA.
Opponents were able to neutralize him very effectively in the half-court as the season moved on, simply backing five feet off him. Simmons would respond by getting very passive in turn, looking very conscious about firing up jumpers, even late in games when his team desperately needed him to be aggressive. To reach his full potential and effectively be paired with other players, Simmons will likely either need to significantly improve his jumper, or be surrounded by plenty of shooters at all times as a primary ball-handler.
Defensively, Simmons has elite instincts and anticipation skills, as evidenced by the terrific 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and .9 blocks he averages per-40 minutes. He sees loose balls coming off the rim in an uncanny way, and is able to react and go grab rebounds before anyone else. When engaged and motivated, Simmons shows the ability to defend a variety of different positions on the floor, moving his feet well enough to stay in front of wings and even guards, while possessing the strength needed to slow down most power forwards in the post.
The problem is that Simmons rarely plays up to his full potential on this end of the floor. He often looks very lazy here, not making any effort whatsoever to close out on shooters and avoiding contact and physicality in a very concerning way when challenged by opposing players. He often resorts to swiping down at the ball aimlessly in hopes of generating a steal, instead of getting in a fundamentally sound stance and trying to stop his man from scoring.
While the red flags around Simmons' defense were there from the moment he stepped on the floor at the college level, as LSU's season went on, he gradually gave less and less effort here, even in his team's most important games, which raised serious question marks about his competitiveness in NBA circles.
There's little question that Simmons was unfairly labeled as a generational talent going into his freshman season by uninformed voices in the media. Now NBA teams picking at the top of the draft in June will need to figure out just how high his long-term upside is, and how well he fits in with their existing roster.
A more condensed version of this article was originally published on the Vertical on March 15th. Find it here in it's original format.
Long before some of the loudest but most uninformed voices anointed Ben Simmons the next LeBron James or Magic Johnson, there was already a significant debate within NBA front offices about whether Simmons was even the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. As the flaws in Simmons' game became more apparent for LSU this season, the question has never changed: Who's No. 1 in June?
For several reasons, Simmons' candidacy as the No. 1 overall prospect is in peril.
Video Analysis of the Last Game of Simmons' College Career
1. Simmons' lack of competitiveness in some crucial games has raised questions about his character as a basketball player. While many top picks succumb to the NBA star lifestyle and emerge as average competitors, it's rare to see that at the collegiate level. From Blake Griffin to Michael Beasley to Carmelo Anthony, those elite college players were rarely questioned about their drive during their collegiate careers. Simmons has displayed an apathy for defense, contact and delivering winning plays in crucial moments. Those troubling revelations in Simmons' game are cause for concern among decision-makers on lottery teams with whom we've had contact.
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? Truth be told, Simmons will almost assuredly be on a bad team that will need to fight every night to win games.
2. Simmons' box scores have grown increasingly hollow. One NBA executive described him as a taller Rajon Rondo, a more athletic Evan Turner, or a skinnier Royce White. Simmons has displayed a penchant for stat-mongering like few players in recent memory, seeming to pad his numbers in blowouts. At times, it appears he only passes when guaranteed an assist and chases home-run plays at inopportune times in search of a highlight. Simmons seems to value those things over winning.
Simmons' porous defense is masked by his gaudy steal and block numbers. But when watching him closely, it's clear that no opposing player or coach fears attacking him. As Simmons rarely makes the effort to close out on shooters, put a body on opposing big men, or offer much beyond gambling wildly swiping for steals, his lack of intensity is amplified. He has wonderful anticipation skills as a rebounder and will wow you with his instincts in passing lanes. But overall, Simmons hasn't shown the length, toughness and inclination to emerge as an asset on the defensive end.
Simmons' short wingspan (measured 6-foot-11 at the Nike Hoop Summit in April and the Nike Skills Academy in June) won't help him play power forward on an NBA lottery team. To make up for his lack of length, he'll have to display a much higher activity level than what he's shown in college.
3. The report on defending Simmons in the half-court is well known and was utilized effectively in recent weeks. Teams put smaller players on Simmons, backing off him and daring him to shoot. Simmons seems to have zero confidence in his outside shot and becomes passive when guarded this way.
For his size (6-10), Simmons is a gifted ball-handler. He has an incredible ability to change speeds, get to the rim and finish in transition. In the half-court, things haven't been quite as easy against better teams, particularly late in games. There are real questions about pairing Simmons with other ball-handlers or non-shooters in the NBA. Does drafting Simmons in the high lottery mean a team needs to trade the likes of D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor or Dario Saric?
4. Simmons' teammates aren't as bad as many would lead you to believe. LSU has six consensus top-100 recruits on their roster (and two more who were ranked just outside the top-100 by various outlets), far more than the overwhelming majority of teams that made this year's NCAA Tournament. If Simmons were truly the -transcendent can't miss superstar many would lead you to believe, he would have found ways to win games against the likes of College of Charleston, Houston, Wake Forest, Marquette, Tennessee, Alabama, N.C. State and South Carolina, all of whom are ranked outside of the KenPom Top-50. LSU doesn't lack talent as much as they lack chemistry, and part of the blame for that has to go to their best player.
Many will point the finger to LSU's head coach Johnny Jones as the culprit behind his team's underachieving, and there certainly is some truth to that. But Simmons has no one to blame for that but himself. Simmons may never get the chance to pick his head coach again in his career, and he decided to put his faith in Jones and his own godfather David Patrick. If Simmons was so quick to quit on his own self-described family member and the head coach he handpicked for himself to lead him at the college level, as soon as things got a little bit difficult, what will happen when he hits a patch of adversity at the NBA level? Will his future agent demand a trade? Or for the head coach to be fired like Simmons' supposed new best friend LeBron James reportedly did with David Blatt?
5. 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.
Those who know him best say he needs things to revolve around him on and off the court and that he's often been close-minded to coaching or instruction. Can all this be blamed on LSU? Check out the mentality section of Simmons' weaknesses breakdown in a video Mike Schmitz created prior to this season.
The uncertainty surrounding Simmons has cleared the way for Duke forward Brandon Ingram to be considered the No. 1 overall prospect.
Ingram is 14 months younger than Simmons, has a longer wingspan by four inches and a standing reach six and a half inches higher. Ingram is a better shooter which is perhaps the most important skill in today's NBA and has shown a much better trajectory throughout the college season. The intel on Ingram as a teammate and competitor has been much stronger than Simmons'. Yes, Ingram has a much more frail frame now, but it's easy to envision him filling out as he ages and matures.
There is still plenty of time for Simmons to improve his approach to the game and reach his potential. Although he's not the generational talent he's been sold as by some, he's a unique prospect who could emerge as an incredible asset to a team down the road if he's willing to address his flaws.
If Simmons had a far stronger preliminary case in November to become the No. 1 overall pick in June, our recent conversations with NBA executives have offered a far different reality for Simmons. There may never be a consensus choice for the first pick in this draft, but make no mistake: The debate is on, and the overhyping of Simmons has made its reckoning. Ingram has played himself into the debate, and it promises to rage into late June.
Last night LSU hosted one of the most talented teams in the NCAA in Kentucky, which prompted 25 NBA teams to send representatives to Baton Rouge to scout the game. LSU followed up their strong road win over Vanderbilt with another convincing effort, beating Kentucky by nearly 20 points, with Simmons scoring 14 points on just 5 shots in 27 minutes (to go along with 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 turnovers). While it would be foolish to draw too many long term conclusions off this contest alone, this is a very interesting matchup to analyze nonetheless due to the quality of athletes Kentucky has at their disposal to throw at him.
Via Mike Schmitz, here's a six minute, forty second video breakdown of some of the more notable things NBA scouts were able to see last night, both good and bad, on either end of the floor.
Poked and prodded in numerous other settings, Ben Simmons measured very similarly here to how he has elsewhere, at 6'10 in shoes, with a 7'0 ¼ wingspan that is a little over an inch longer than previously reported elsewhere. He has added 11 pounds to his frame since the Nike Skills Academy in late June, and his 9-foot plus standing reach is also very solid if accurate.
Simmons also tested off the charts athletically, with a 41 ½ inch vertical, a lightning quick lane agility time, and what would be the all-time fastest ¾ court sprint number in the history of the DraftExpress database if LSU's testing results are to be believed.
The LSU-bound freshman proved himself as the best NBA prospect at Nike Academy, further justifying his #2 spot on the DraftExpress 2016 Mock Draft.
Simmons is an extremely unique talent with an outstanding feel for the game and an ability to handle, pass, make plays with either hand, defend multiple positions and play above the rim in transition at 6' 9.5 229 pounds.
Simmons made plays all over the floor and was far away the most talented passer in the gym day in and day out. With the ability to grab a rebound and run the break in transition, Simmons is nearly impossible to stop in the open court. His combination of strength and speed at that size makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing power forwards.
Simmons' success wasn't only limited to transition, however. He thrived as a point forward of sorts, handling the ball in pick and roll sets and dissecting the defense out of post isolations. He has elite court vision and uses different angles to deliver the ball on the money with either hand.
While he's best as a distributor, Simmons also does an outstanding job getting low to the ground on his perimeter drives as his combination of strength and a quick first step allows him to get all the way to the rim, where he's comfortable finishing with either hand.
Simmons can be prone to throwing up wild attempts at the rim and avoiding contact inside, however. While his passing instincts are tremendous, he does go for the home run play a bit too often at times.
The main area where Simmons still has quite a bit of room for growth is as a shooter. Although he does get solid rotation on the ball and has some natural touch, Simmons' shooting mechanics aren't ideal, as he sports a fairly slow windup and involved his ring and pinky finger too much on his release. The Aussie did knock down a couple of mid-rage jumpers and banked in a three, but his jumper still remains his biggest question mark moving forward.
Given his inconsistencies as a shooter at this stage of his development, Simmons is best as a playmaking power forward who would thrive in a system where he's able to handle the ball and create for his teammates.
Defensively, Simmons showed outstanding versatility, staying in front of quick perimeter players with relative ease. He's very mobile for his size and has the strength to battle on the interior as well. It's Simmons offensive talent that often has scouts and media members buzzing, but he really has a chance to be an excellent defender and two-way player. Simmons isn't overly tough and doesn't quite have elite length for a power forward, making him best defending the perimeter at this stage, but he certainly has the size and frame to develop into a better interior defender in time. Although he still has room to improve as a shooter, Simmons was by far the most intriguing talent at Nike Academy and will most certainly make a strong case for becoming the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Australian point forward Ben Simmons was the final piece to the puzzle for the World Team. The LSU-bound Simmons finished a rebound and assist shy of a triple double, posting a stat line of 13 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. He showed off his tremendous versatility and feel for the game that's unlike any other player in high school basketball.
Simmons did an excellent job moving the ball ahead in transition, finding shooters, bigs and cutters in the half court, and mixing some trademark behind the back passes in the open court. The Aussie lefty also showcased his tremendous ambidexterity with a couple of off-hand finishes in traffic. Simmons has room to improve as a shooter and as an overall scorer in the half court, and can do a better taking care of the ball (four turnovers), but overall his unique talent shined through as he played multiple positions and was a big factor in the World Team victory.
Ben Simmons looked locked in from the opening tip, handling the ball very frequently, particularly in transition off defensive rebounds. He found the open man nicely for spot-up 3s, and also did quite a bit of scoring himself for the first time seemingly this week, attacking a closeout for a beautiful finger-roll floater, knocking down a corner 3-pointer, and hitting another floater in transition.
He was extremely aggressive with the ballclearly something Roy Rana and the World Team wants to take advantage of due to his superb ball-handling and passing skills and how much they've struggled with guard play in the half-courtand was rewarded with fouls and free throws in turn. If this ultra-aggressive version of Simmons shows up tomorrow, the World Team will be in very good shape.
It was very interesting to see the way Ben Simmons was utilized as the ball-handler in pick and roll situations in the half-court, as he's such a mismatch at his size at the small forward position, and has a tremendous feel for drawing the defense and then finding the open man. When he's focused on playing the right way and not trying to thread the needle with impossible behind the back bounce passes in transition for highlight reel plays, he's extremely impressive.
Ben Simmons Height (w/ shoes): 6-10 Weight: 239 Wingspan: 6-11 Hand Width: 10 Hand Length: 9 Standing Reach: 8-7 Country: Australia
Simmons measured two inches taller here than he did this past summer at the Lebron James Skills Academy. This is our first look at his wingspan and standing reach measurements, which both appear to be slightly underwhelming for a NBA small forward, let alone a power forward. Simmons' standing reach in particular is clearly that of a small forward, and his overall measurements are similar to those of a taller Tobias Harris or Joffrey Lauvergne.
Strengths: -Solid size at 6-8 or possibly 6-9 -Great frame for his age. Very mature physically -Smooth, fluid athlete -Very good leaper -Excellent in transition -Finishes well around the basket -Lefty who shows the ability to use both hands effectively -Can make an occasional pull-up jumper -Good potential defensively. Moves feet well. Can guard either forward position at junior level. Makes plays at the rim -Team player. Makes the extra pass.
Weaknesses: -Limited offensively in the half-court -Average ball-handler -Poor outside shooter -Very unconventional shooting mechanics -No post moves -Somewhat passive at times
Outlook: Extremely young. Only 15 years old at the U17 World Championship. Skill-level still catching up. Able to dominate players his age using his superior strength and athleticism. A little bit stuck between forward positions at the moment. Needs to improve as a ball-handler and shooter to play as a small forward. Will likely play college basketball starting in 2015.