Playing his freshman year at Louisiana State University, Simmons is currently averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Though only eight games into his (likely) one-and-done collegiate career, Simmons already has the basketball world delirious with excitement.
The latest to stoke the fires is former Grantland founder and highly-popular American writer and podcaster Bill Simmons, who this week labelled the Australian “the best college player in nine years, since [Kevin] Durant.”
Speaking on his HBO podcast, Simmons – whose eight-year-old son is named Benjamin – was discussing the future of the Philadelphia 76ers with guest Joe House, when conversation turned to the young Australian.
The pair began making comparisons between Simmons and recent top NBA Draft picks Anthony Davis and Andrew Wiggins.
“I think he’s a better prospect than those guys,” Simmons said.
“Better than Anthony Davis?” House asked incredulously.
“Yeah, I do,” was Simmons’ reply.
Amidst all the hype and intense media focus, the sure-fire No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick is incredibly managing to exceed expectations.
As a team, the LSU Tigers may be somewhat underachieving – they’re currently 4-4 overall – but that’s not a result of sub-par performances from Simmons.
In a recent win over North Florida, for example, the 6’10” point-forward scored 43 points (on 15-of-20 shooting), hauled in 14 rebounds, dropped 7 dimes, grabbed 5 steals and swatted 3 shots. Heck, my fingers are tired just typing that stat-line.
They’re the type of headline-grabbing performances that have the hype train steaming down the line. And for good reason – his all-court play is absolutely mesmerising to watch.
Possessing the size of a power forward, Simmons handles the rock like a guard and combines impressive court vision and elite passing skills to consistently set up open team-mates.
Perhaps his greatest skill is his ability to scoop up defensive rebounds and instantly start the fast-break. Within three or four dribbles Simmons is entering the paint and looking to finish or find open team-mates.
It’s a rare skill in players with power forward size.
Charles Barkley had it.
So did Magic Johnson.
In the modern era, four-time MVP LeBron James has been the master of it.
What Simmons lacks at this stage is that much-discussed knockdown three point shot.
Speaking on the Downtown Podcast in June 2014, shortly before embarking on his senior year at Montverde, the teenager said “becoming a consistent shooter” was his top priority.
“I remember the first thing Brett Brown told me when he was coaching the Boomers, it was: ‘if you can shoot you’re gonna make it’,” Simmons recalled.
“That’s the main thing I want to get done, becoming a consistent shooter.”
In his eight LSU games thus far, Simmons has attempted a grand total of two three-point attempts. Of course, that’s partly a result of his impressive basketball IQ (why launch from long-range when I can so easily get to the rim?).
The development of his perimeter shooting is important though, as it will likely be the difference between him realising his full potential or not.
LeBron James, the player whose game Simmons’ most closely resembles, travelled a very similar journey. When he entered the NBA as a teenager in 2003, LeBron’s shooting was the area of his game most requiring improvement.
Interestingly, it was a former NBL player – 1995 North Melbourne Giants import Chris Jent – who worked closely with LeBron on his shooting throughout the early parts of his NBA career. James and Jent worked tirelessly together over a long period of time on shooting technique and the two-time Champ recently spoke about the impact that work had on his development.
“I had a shooting coach years back in Chris Jent that helped my shot out a lot when he was here as an assistant coach,” James told Cleveland.com.
“From there on I just kept the same routine. He helped me out a lot.”
LeBron recently hopped on board the hype train when he described Simmons as “an unbelievable talent” and gave validation to comparisons to him.
Hopefully the parallels extend from their on-court play to James’ competitive mindset – that burning desire he’s shown throughout his career to constantly improve his game.
James yearned for greatness from a very young age. He recognised the holes in his game and poured his heart and soul into plugging them.
Is Simmons putting in the necessary work behind closed doors to turn his shooting into a strength? We’ve no reason to think he isn’t, but the proof is not yet in the pudding.
Nonetheless, NBA Champion Andrew Bogut told Melbourne’s SEN Radio last week that “when it’s all said and done (Simmons) will be the number one Australian to play in the NBA.”
Bill Simmons, who wrote the New York Times Best Seller ‘The Book of Basketball’, went on to further sing the praises of Australia’s next big thing.
“The interesting thing about Ben Simmons, as long as he stays healthy he’s going to kick ass,” he said.
“The season’s going to end, he’ll turn pro and he’s going to have three shoe companies coming after him really hard… there’s a really good chance he could go to either Philadelphia, Boston or Los Angeles – three of the league’s signature teams – what is that worth?”
It’s an intriguing question, especially in the current climate where Derrick Rose locked up a $250 million deal with Adidas and LeBron James is signing lifetime deals with Nike.
One thing’s for sure, Simmons is in for one hell of a pay day.
“What would you pay Ben Simmons if he’s on the Lakers and you’re Nike and you’re battling with Under Armour? What would you pay for Ben Simmons?” the outspoken media personality asked.
NBA Champion Patty Mills spoke recently about the circus surrounding Simmons and the role he hopes to play in helping the phenom realise his potential.
“It’s good for basketball in Australia to be able to have that hype,” Mills told starting5online.com.
“It’s a learning experience … then it’s going to be another learning experience going to the next level, obviously.
“With what Boges said, I agree – he’s got the potential obviously. We, as teammates and fellow Australians that have been through the path, have got to help him in every way we can to make sure that he understands the path and he does it to the best of his ability.”
Mills’ comments were typically measured and sensible. After all, the journey is only just beginning for Simmons and there are many, many temptations and potential pitfalls ahead.
It’s tough, as the hype is good for hoops Down Under. Simmons realising his potential, however, will be even better.
Matthew Dellavedova – no stranger to intense media scrutiny after his play in last year’s playoffs – probably summed it up best when asked about the comparisons to LeBron.
“I think everybody should just let him be his own player,” Delly said.
“He’s going to be special in his own way.”