There appears to be no less than 10 teams that could legitimately stake a claim to being college basketball's preseason No. 1 four full months before the season kicks off, but there's zero debate over who looks like the sport's biggest star. That would be Ben Simmons, the 6'10 Australian-bred point-power forward, even before he's ever played a game at LSU.
This is not a terribly unique phenomenon in college basketball: Harrison Barnes and Andrew Wiggins were deemed preseason All-Americans by the AP as incoming freshmen, and Jahlil Okafor was preseason Player of the Year. All three of those players likely would have been top 10 NBA draft picks out of high school if they were allowed to make the jump, and Simmons is no different. He was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015 for a reason.
The hype is already starting to roll in. Simmons spent the last few days in Los Angeles at the Nike Basketball Academy where he was one of only two freshmen in attendance. In between taking a yoga class from LeBron James and listening to lectures from Kobe Bryant, there was some basketball played, too. It confirmed what recruiting analysts have known for a long time: Simmons is an immensely gifted player.
Watched LSU's Ben Simmons for 3 straight days at the Nike Basketball Academy. He's ridiculous. Simmons has versatile talent rarely seen.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) June 30, 2015
Here's a brief recap of Simmons' time in LA: He guarded Anthony Davis, battled James Harden to a draw, proved he's the best passer in the building, showed off his defensive potential and did enough to get Jay Bilas to say he has a higher ceiling than Andrew Wiggins. He's being called the "ultimate modern NBA player" a month after he graduated high school.
It makes you wonder: is this kid the second coming of Magic Johnson, or will NBA scouts pick apart his game in college the same way they did to Okafor?
It's hard to say Okafor got "exposed" in college, as he led Duke to the national championship and went No. 3 overall in the draft, but it's fair to admit the spotlight revealed some flaws. Namely, he didn't defend, he couldn't shoot free throws and he wasn't exactly the fastest player on the court.
For Simmons, the spotlight is going to be on his shooting. On the grassroots circuit, he did not showcase an ability to consistently knock down a jumper outside of 15 feet. He looks like a player who needs the ball in his hands offensively at all times. That won't be an issue at LSU, but in the NBA he'll have to adapt to a team that might not be expertly tailored to his strengths.
With that being said, there's so much to like with Simmons. His talent is undeniable. From his time on Nike's EYBL tour with Each 1 Teach 1 to quality performances in All-Star games like the McDonald's All-American Game and Nike Hoops Summit, Simmons gave scouts a lot to get excited about.
It starts with his size. Measuring at 6'9.5, 230 pounds this weekend, Simmons has the height of an NBA power forward and enough weight to hold his own in the post. He doesn't have plus length (only a 6'11 wingspan), but Steph Curry, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love don't, either. You can be a star in the NBA without long arms. It's everyone else who needs a few more inches of wingspan to break apart from a crowded pack of potential role players.
What makes Simmons special is that he has point guard skills in such a huge frame. Make no mistake: he'll be handling the ball a ton at LSU, and that shouldn't change when he enters the NBA.
How many 6'10 guys have the handle and burst to take a rebound coast to coast like this?
How many can make behind the back passes in transition like it's no big deal?
How many NBA power forwards can read the floor as quickly as this and throw a perfect pass to a cutter for an easy dunk?
How many 6'10 18-year-olds can make a fast break look like an And-1 mixtape?
The ideal way to build around Simmons is to have two 3-and-D wings, a shooter and secondary creator at point guard and a rim protector at center. If that happens, you can run everything through Simmons out of the four spot and let him pick defenses apart with his vision and passing.
LSU should have that in place. By getting Antonio Blakeney (Simmons' AAU teammate) to flip from Louisville and Brandon Sampson to flip from St. John's, the Tigers built a recruiting class that should pay off both with Simmons and well after he leaves for the NBA. Junior wing Tim Quarterman, a 6'6 shooter, is another potential NBA prospect. Sophomore Elbert Robinson III is a 7-foot, 300-pound giant in the middle. The Tigers are young, but they should be very good.