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NBA PM: Ben Simmons Already Turning Heads

LSU’s Ben Simmons is already putting up impressive stats and turning heads five games into his college career.

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Ben Simmons Already Turning Heads

It didn’t take long for Ben Simmons to show the world why he’s in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Through his first five games with LSU, the freshman is averaging 16.2 points (on 53.4 percent from the field), 14.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks.

Simmons is a point forward, who is listed at 6’10 and 225 pounds. He’s projected to play the three in the NBA, but he looks like a ridiculously tall point guard when he’s delivering beautiful no-look passes to cutting teammates or dribbling the ball coast-to-coast against multiple defenders. He’s a nightly triple-double threat and LSU puts the ball in his hands often since he thrives as a scorer and as a facilitator. Simmons is a very unique player, simply because 6’10 forwards typically don’t have his skill set and can’t move the way he does.

While Simmons has played well, LSU has dropped two straight games. The Tigers lost to Marquette and N.C. State, which is somewhat concerning since these were the first real tests for LSU (who opened the season with wins against McNeese State, Kennesaw State and South Alabama). Both games were close – a one-point loss against Marquette and an overtime loss against N.C. State – but it’s still surprising they’ve dropped two of their first five contests.

Even though the team has struggled a bit, it hasn’t cooled down the Simmons buzz. The 19-year-old seems comfortable with his transition from high school to college, as he is already turning heads. In fact, he has already drawn comparisons to NBA stars like LeBron James and legends like Magic Johnson (even though these are very premature).

Simmons was particularly impressive in LSU’s one-point loss to Marquette, finishing with 21 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

“Anyone that doesn’t have Simmons No. 1 [on their draft board] should be fired,” a longtime NBA general manager told ESPN’s Chad Ford after the 21-point, 20-rebound, seven-assist performance.

There’s no question that Simmons is extremely talented and it seems he has star potential. But his game does have one obvious weakness: His jump shot needs a lot of work. This is why he hasn’t attempted a single three-pointer through five games (even though some teams have given him plenty of space and dared him to shoot). If Simmons doesn’t feel comfortable shooting college threes, he’ll really struggle with the NBA three early in his professional career.

Fortunately for Simmons, LSU did a good job surrounding their star freshman with shooters so he can just focus on facilitating and attacking the basket. Those are his biggest strengths on the offensive end and LSU has built their system around him. It’s also worth noting that Simmons is great at impacting the game even when he isn’t scoring; against N.C. State he was 1-6 from the field and had just four points, but he contributed in other ways with 14 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and three blocks (while turning the ball over zero times).

Still, NBA teams will want to see him shoot during the pre-draft process, and whichever team does end up selecting him will try to fix his jumper and extend his range. He may be able to dominate at the collegiate level without shooting, but that’s tougher to do in the NBA.

Simmons has been on the NBA’s radar for quite some time. He was born in Australia, but he spent his final three years of high school at Montverde Academy in Florida. He won three straight High School National Tournament titles, beating perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy of Virginia in the title game the last two years.

As a senior, Simmons averaged 28 points, 11.9 rebounds, four assists and 2.6 steals while shooting 70.7 percent from the field. He was the No. 1 ranked player in his class and racked up individual accolades, including McDonald’s All-American honors, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year award and the Gatorade National Player of the Year award among others.

Much like he did in high school, Simmons has shown that he can fill the stat sheet at the collegiate level. LSU needs to get back to winning, but it’s hard not to be impressed with Simmons’ play thus far. His ceiling is extremely high and it’ll be a lot of fun watching him develop moving forward.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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