It only took Ben Simmons four games to validate the hype.
Simmons was introduced to the world when his LSU Tigers faced Marquette under the bright lights at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This was Simmons' first real test after opening his college career against three low-major programs, and he did not disappoint. LSU lost by one, but Simmons ended the night with 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists.
Simmons' game clearly doesn't fit into a conventional box. At 6'10 and 240 pounds, he's a point forward who needs the ball in his hands to impact the game. LSU has therefore bent its roster to accommodate his strengths and mask his one glaring weakness. In the process, they're offering a glimpse at his best long-term fit. NBA GMs must be thrilled.
Simmons hasn't taken a three-pointer this season, and that's no coincidence. His lack of shooting ability makes him the inverse of what many NBA teams are looking for in of a contemporary power forward. But when he's surrounded by shooters and allowed to orchestrate everything around him, Simmons' unique ability to create looks for himself and others can be a powerful offense by itself.
Simmons isn't the only star freshman in Baton Rouge this year. He brought along his grassroots teammate and fellow McDonald's All-American Antonio Blakeney, as well as top-40 recruit Brandon Sampson. Both are 6'3 guards who can shoot from the perimeter or attack off the bounce. With 6'6 junior Tim Quarterman, a 47-percent three-point shooter this year, slotted in at point guard, LSU has three dynamic off-ball weapons for Simmons to use as a passer.
Marquette learned what a devastating combination that can be on Monday night. Simmons picked out shooters and cutters all night as the nucleus of LSU's spread attack.
That's not a pass a power forward should be able to make. It's in a tight window and off the dribble, with little margin for error. Simmons, with the help of LSU's other players occupying attention, makes it look effortless.
It certainly helps when opposing defenses are exclusively keyed in on everything Simmons does. As four Golden Eagles surround him, Simmons uses his rare gifts as passer the pristine spacing that surrounds him to rifle the ball to the corner shooter.
Simmons' height allows him to survey opposing defenses in a way traditional point guards can't. Watch how LSU clears out the opposite side of the court and freezes Marquette's lone defender with the threat of a drive left. That alignment frees Simmons' teammate to make a wide open backdoor cut for an on-target alley-oop.
Where Simmons really shines is in transition. He's an excellent rebounder who doesn't hesitate to push the ball as soon as he controls it. His combination of speed and ball handling immediately puts the opposing defense on its heels. From the initial burst to the way he fits the pass between two defenders, it takes a special talent to complete this play.
Using a big man to lead the break and the guards to fill the wing allows the Tigers to create these kinds of opportunities more often.
Simmons with a head of steam is a terrifying proposition for the other team. That even extends to half-court situations, where Simmons showed that it's dangerous to just sag off him.
Defenses are currently giving Simmons an ocean of space to bait him into thinking about his weak jumper, but he remains remarkably disciplined. Instead of shooting on the penultimate possession, he bullrushed toward the rim after a quick crossover to give LSU its first lead of the night on a layup with his opposite hand.
The move was spectacular, but the Tigers' spacing helped, too. Marquette's defenders were slow to converge because they were worried about LSU's perimeter shooting. That's how they are putting their star in a position to succeed.
Simmons is certainly a star, but he also requires a certain type of roster around him. If he's played as a wing within a two-post offense (say, next to the 76ers' Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor), his lack of shooting range could be damning. But when used as a power forward alongside perimeter shooters, his singular talent bubbles to the surface.
NBA teams at the bottom of the standings better start taking notes. Simmons was able to make these plays because he's being used as the de facto point guard with an open floor. LSU might have suffered its first defeat of the year on Monday, but the game also showed exactly how dominant Simmons can be when he's put in the best position to succeed.
He really could be a transcendent NBA player, but he must be given the opportunity to play to his strengths.