It’s all happening in Ben Simmons land. There are a few key questions facing the Aussie basketball phenom over the coming months, which will play an important part in his early career development: Can he take LSU to the SEC tournament summit (starting today) and a spot in the NCAA tourney? Will he suit up for the Boomers in the Olympics? Which team will win the NBA lottery and hence Simmons?
Those questions will remain unanswered for now, but over the last few months, Simmons has already answered one question: can he be Australia’s first NBA superstar?
The answer is an emphatic "yes". Of course, this hasn’t stopped the inevitable appearance of naysayers: “He has no jumpshot,” “he doesn’t shoot enough,” “he flunked his classes,” “his team doesn’t win enough” are all arguments I’ve heard over recent times. Come on - are you guys serious? Let’s take a step back and look what he’s achieved statistically. Then we’ll break down each of the above arguments individually.
Per game: 19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0.8 blocks, 56.3% shooting.
Firstly, he’s a damn freshman and he just put up these stats. Since 1994-95 (when these stats were first collected for all college players), no freshman, sophomore, junior or senior – i.e. no one – has put up 15+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists. It’s the assists that is the remarkable thing here: it is notoriously difficult to rack up assist numbers in college, due to heavy zone defenses and a long shot clock which sees the ball end up in most players hands throughout a possession. Magic Johnson and Chris Paul only averaged 7.4 and 5.9 assists per game in their freshman years respectively, and in the last 20 seasons no player has put up 10 assists per game over a college season.
Thus, for Simmons to average 5 per game as a power forward is highly impressive. Needless to say, Simmons is the first true big man (averaging double digit boards) to average 5+ assists since 1995. Going back further, he is probably the only guy not named Larry or Oscar to achieve this (it is difficult to confirm this with the nature of old college statistics, as numerous teams didn’t record assists until the 90s). He has the thread-the-needle bounce pass down pat. The behind the back. The no-look. But it’s the less flashy passes that really catch the eye of NBA scouts; due to his length, he can make skip passes out of the post rarely seen on a basketball court, which can send defenses scrambling all over the court. You double-team this guy at your peril. I mean, look at these GIFs – this guy appears to be a triple double machine.