Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball draft pick Ben Simmons poses for photographs during a news conference in Philadelphia, Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
It was only fitting that, on the 20th anniversary of the Philadelphia 76ers drafting Allen Iverson as the top overall selection in the 1996 NBA Draft, LSU’s Ben Simmons became the Sixers’ newest top pick.
The 6-foot, 10-inch Simmons arrives in Philadelphia with major expectations following a much-hyped amateur career. The 19-year-old Simmons definitely passes the eye test. The athletic forward rebounds, runs the floor, can handle the ball and finishes in the open court with flare. However, despite a deep list of abilities, Simmons’ LSU team didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament last season, leading to some questions about Simmons’ future impact. The 76ers are banking on the young forward to turn the franchise around, but can Simmons live up to the hype? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Simmons is a 6-foot, 10-inch power forward with the ability to be a fluid distributor in the Association—he’s a blue-chip talent that comes around once every 10 years. He’s being appropriately compared to LeBron James because that’s who his game most resembles. Rumors suggest the Sixers might start Simmons at point guard next season. While that idea could be far-fetched considering Simmons’ lack of a consistent jump shot, it’s clear that the team is going to put him in every position to succeed. This year’s top pick possesses the size, agility and pedigree to thrive in the league. He’ll be a franchise cornerstone in Philadelphia.
Green: Simmons has talent, but his weak jumper and lack of a supporting cast will cost him during his first few years in the league. The 76ers have done nothing but draft big men in the upper portion of the lottery for the last few seasons. They have no floor spacers and no shooters, and both are essential to rookie ball handlers. Philadelphia still has a whole summer to remake its roster to fit Simmons’ talents, but it would be premature for the team to do so since they really don’t know what they have in the LSU forward. Sure, Simmons was able to fuel fast breaks in high school and college with his open court ball-handling but NBA-level defenders don’t take kindly to big men shuffling their way down the court freely. Again, I agree that Simmons’ talent is off the charts, but he’s not walking into a favorable situation for a rookie with major expectations.
Riley: I see Philadelphia’s ineptitude as a good thing, because it’s only going to funnel the ball into Simmons’ hands more and more. Spacing will definitely be an issue, but that will also force Simmons to work on the crucial parts of his game. He’s clearly the most talented player on the roster and he hasn’t even signed a rookie contract. The Philadelphia brass has been waiting for years to land a star, and they’ll invest the resources to shape him into a star and surround him with high-level talent. Simmons has prototypical size and athleticism with a high quality skill set. He has all the tools and traits that he needs to be crafted into a star, the 76ers just have to nurture him—the ingredients are already there.
Green: For a guy being compared to three-time champion LeBron James, it’s going to take more than a simple eye test to live up to the hype. Physically, Simmons looks like a star, but even the always-attacking Iverson could only push the team so far. As unfair and silly as it might sound, LeBron James is now the standard for franchise-changing No. 1 picks. If you’re a 6-foot, 10-inch wing player with point guard skills, you’re going to be compared to James even more. And unless you’re capable of turning an entire franchise around, winning regular season MVP trophies and ushering your team into the Finals, then your No. 1 pick status is all for naught. I like what Simmons can do. But to live up to this type of pressure he’s going to have to be better than just good: he’s going to have to be spectacular. His size and skill set suggest possibilities but ultimately, we could be asking for too much for Simmons to turn around a franchise as putrid as the 76ers.