Who May Be the Next Ben Simmons?
Top draft prospect Ben Simmons of LSU is garnering a lot of attention due to his eye-popping collegiate numbers, and he’s almost guaranteed to make him the top overall selection of the 2016 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old impacts just about every facet of the game and he’s currently averaging 20.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 blocks. The wonder from down under is drawing early comparisons to LeBron James for his versatility and unselfish style of play, and executives from potential lottery teams are already drooling over the possibility of nabbing the burgeoning star.
While it may be a little early, the good people at McDonald’s recently released a long list of 2016 McDonald’s All-American nominees and, as we know, many of the NBA’s current superstars were, in fact, named to those exhibition games earlier in their career.
Knowing that, here’s a look at who is currently considered the nation’s best five-star high school recruits. We’ll examine their game and whether they have the potential to – like Simmons – become one of the top prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Harry Giles, F, 6’10, Oak Hill Academy (Duke) – Like quite a few top high school stars have done over the years, ESPN’s No. 1 overall recruit Harry Giles transferred to Oak Hill for his senior year in an effort to maximize exposure and present himself as a man among men. However, that decision proved a fateful one as he partially tore his right ACL minutes into his first game there and now is in the midst of sitting out his senior season of high school.
This is significant for Giles – a talented big man with outstanding athleticism who already possesses the body of an NBA player – because he also tore both his ACL and MCL in the other knee the summer before his sophomore campaign. There’s no question that he’s incredibly talented, and a year at Duke certainly won’t hurt his shot at being the top overall pick in 2017. But his health now is a serious concern and it’s fair to wonder whether a team with the first or second selection will take him, even following a great year of college ball. He’ll be in contention if he’s in one piece, but there are safer options at the top – namely kids who arguably are just as talented but with stronger knees.
Jayson Tatum, F, 6’8, Chaminade H.S. (Duke) – Also headed to Duke is Tatum, who is one of Giles’ best friends and future roommate. Tatum could just as easily become the No. 1 player in the 2017 Draft thanks to his combination of skill, athleticism and size. Scouts have noted that there really isn’t much anybody can do to guard the guy (he had 46 points in a high school game earlier this season), but he’s also long enough to play tricky defense thanks to a 6’10 wingspan. He already is putting on muscle, and he’ll end up taking Brandon Ingram’s spot in the Blue Devils’ lineup should Ingram head for the NBA next season as expected. There’s no reason Tatum shouldn’t leave college just as highly touted as Ingram has become.
Josh Jackson, G, 6’8, Prolific Prep (Undecided) – As Rivals.com’s No. 1 overall recruit, Jackson is trying to use his senior season to prove that he is arguably the best high school player in the country. While he’s not necessarily the sort of elite scorer that Tatum appears to be, he is a little more versatile and has the potential to be one of the best defensive players from his class. He’s not as aggressive on offense as he probably should be, but that could come with time as he narrows down his collegiate choices (which reportedly are down to Arizona, Michigan State and perhaps Kansas) and gets enough experience on that level to find himself on that end. A recruit who is a jack of all trades with a high ceiling typically gets drafted very early, and right now Jackson fits that mold. he already looks like one of the top three players of his draft class.
De’Aaron Fox, G, 6’3, Cypress Lakes H.S. (Kentucky) – One of three top-10 high school recruits headed to Kentucky this year, Fox finds himself en route to the NBA farm that is John Calipari’s Wildcats roster. But it’s hard to know what will happen this offseason since the futures of Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe – the two uber-talented point guards already on the team – are somewhat up in the air since they’re considered bubble first-rounders.
Even if Fox doesn’t get a ton of playing time next year, which is doubtful considering he’s the No. 1 point guard prospect in the country, NBA scouts look at Kentucky players and judge their potential, athleticism and ability to translate their game to the league, not actual output, and Fox obviously has those things in droves. He’s traditional at his position in a sense, with great court vision and the quickness necessary to attack the bucket at will. With that said, he’s also one of his class’ best perimeter defenders, which makes him a very tough matchup (particularly for smaller point guards). He seems at the very least destined for the lottery, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him emerge as a top pick.
Bam Adebayo, F, 6’10, High Point Christian (Kentucky) – Another one of Coach Cal’s recruits, Adebayo looks like an NBA player already, but thankfully for him that humongous 260-pound frame also comes with quite a bit of talent. Nicknamed “Bam” as a toddler because he crashed into and knocked over a coffee table, Edrice Adebayo is one of the most polished big men in high school hoops right now. He’s surprisingly athletic for his size and scores incredibly efficiently with his fine array of post moves. While he’s more of a center stuck in a power forward’s body, he has a skill set that definitely will translate well to the college level and eventually to the pro level too. He’s arguably the most desirable “true” big man in his class, and as NBA history has shown us, quality true big men tend to get drafted pretty high.
Malik Monk, G, 6’4, Bentonville H.S. (Kentucky) – Monk is the third top-10 recruit headed to Kentucky this season, but the highly-efficient combo guard out of Arkansas has the potential to be the best of the batch. He’s really more of a shooting guard than anything, but the NBA no longer worries about positions as much as it used to. That means the speedy, athletic, heady Monk should have no problem finding a professional home in about a year and a half when it comes time for him to consider entering the NBA Draft. An avid hunter, Monk lends himself to all sorts of fun basketball wordplay (the “hunt” for a championship; a “sharpshooter”), but it’s his skills on the court that have him headed to the most talented roster in college hoops next season. Kentucky breeds stars, and there’s little reason to believe that Monk couldn’t be one.
Dennis Smith, G, 6’3, Trinity Christian (NC State) – One of the more interesting players on this list, Smith also tore his ACL this season and used his lost senior season as an excuse to graduate high school a semester early and join his new NC State teammates a full eight months earlier than expected. While Smith isn’t expected to play for the Wolfpack this year, the star point guard is making use of what we can only assume are high-quality rehab and training facilities, not to mention he’s getting an extra semester of learning the playbook and being around his coaching staff and teammates at practices. As far as experience goes, he’s still essentially a high school senior, and he’ll need a whole extra year at college to be eligible for the draft, but this athletic attacker with the tight handles and solid court vision should prove himself worthy of NBA attention in no time. Getting that extra time with the Pack certainly won’t hurt either.
It may seem ridiculous to give heavy consideration to an NBA Draft that’s 18 months away when so much can happen between now and then. After all, six months ago we were looking at Skal LaBissiere as arguably the best player of the 2016 draft class, but he has been massively disappointing at Kentucky during his freshman season. Several years ago, there were early rumblings out of high school that Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller would be top picks in the 2012 NBA Draft, but today neither player is on an NBA roster. Once upon a time, Shabazz Muhammad was supposed to be a superstar (some even called him the next Carmelo Anthony).
Things change and other players come out of nowhere to climb draft boards, but if we’re looking for next year’s Ben Simmons in the NCAA, these seven players are the best bets for now. Whether Harry Giles can stay healthy long-term is the most interesting question among these young players, but it sure isn’t the only one.
That, of course, is a big part of what makes all this early speculation so much fun.
Fixing The Detroit Pistons
David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.
We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.
They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.
What Is Working
Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.
If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.
The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.
They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.
What Needs To Change
Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.
Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.
The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.
Focus Area: The Draft
To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.
The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.
Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.
In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.
It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.
The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.
Fixing The Chicago Bulls
Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.
Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.
In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.
Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.
There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.
What Is Working
If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.
The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.
Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.
Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.
What Needs To Change
Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.
Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.
As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.
Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.
Focus Area: The Draft
Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.
Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.
Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.
If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.
Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.
Focus Area: Free Agency
Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.
The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.
Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.
Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.
There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.
All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.
NBA Daily: 76ers’ Ben Simmons Enters Rarefied Air
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons passed Magic Johnson for second in rookie triple-doubles.
As the Philadelphia 76ers continued their playoff push with a come-from-behind victory over the woebegone New York Knicks Thursday, rookie Ben Simmons joined some NBA legends in the record book. With his eighth triple-double of the season, Simmons passed Magic Johnson for second all-time in triple-doubles among rookies. According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, Simmons is only the third rookie to record 1000 points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists.
After the win over the Knicks, Simmons told reporters that the process for him has been to disregard the expectations thrust upon him as a scorer and focus on his ability to contribute in a variety of ways.
“I try not to get carried away with what people say,” said Simmons. “People want me to be a scorer or a player that I’m not right now. I can score the ball, but I can also rebound and pass the ball. I’d rather do that and do what I’m pretty good at than force things.”
Simmons was clearly aware of the gravity of what he had accomplished in the postgame locker room. He spoke with reverence of the legendary players his name will always be associated with, including Oscar Robertson, whose record of 26 triple-doubles as a rookie may never be challenged.
“It’s surreal knowing the game’s been played for a long time,” said Simmons. “So many greats have been through. I’ve set a record with Magic and Oscar Robertson, which is surreal to me.”
Before the game, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek described how Simmons’ combination of size, speed, and court vision make him especially difficult to guard.
“He’s got the speed, he’s got those long strides and he’s got the vision as a passer to pick you apart,” said Hornacek. “You’ve got to kind of collapse and kind of create a wall to not let him get in [the paint], but then he goes ahead and throws it out to the shooters that they have on his team.”
Begley also quoted 76ers coach Brett Brown during the pregame discussing how Simmons’ assignment to the point guard position was debated within the organization.
“I’m so pleased that the organization, he, the coaching staff, had the courage to try him as a point guard,” said Brown. “Because, let’s face it, that was highly scrutinized.”
It seems it was the right decision, as Simmons’ 507 assists easily leads all rookies. Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is second with 325 while Dallas’ Dennis Smith follows with 289, De’Aaron Fox of the Kings has 262 and fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz has 236. Simmons leads the 76ers with 7.7 assists per game and is third in scoring with 16.2 points, trailing leading scorer Joel Embiid (23.6) and veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick (16.6). His 7.8 rebounds per game trails only Embiid (10.9) for the team lead.
The 76ers are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, but could easily move up with only three of its final 15 games coming against teams in playoff position. Philadelphia trails the third-seed Pacers by a mere two games, so home court advantage in the first round is definitely in play. Meanwhile, Simmons said at a practice over the weekend that he hasn’t experienced a rookie wall.
“I don’t think there’s a wall,” said Simmons. “I wake up every morning and I love what I do. You’re going to have great games and you’re going to have some bad games, but that just comes with it.”
With history notched into his belt and no signs of slowing with the playoffs looming, Simmons’ All-Star snub could look even more ridiculous as time passes. Magic posted an eerily-similar 18 points, 7.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game as a Lakers rookie. He was an All-Star starter and became the first rookie to be named NBA Finals MVP.