Ben Simmons enters college basketball as the top player out of high school for good reason. Aside from leading Montverde Academy to its third straight national title, the 18-year-old possesses a unique combination of size and skill that makes him the sort of player every professional team is on the prowl for nowadays.
Simmons dominated last season with averages of 28 points and 12 rebounds thanks in large part to his physical profile (6-10, 229-pound frame). However, he has very little experience outside the high school level. Simmons last logged minutes for the Australian national team junior squad in 2012 and has only 185 official minutes defending his country, according to RealGM.
Simmons did well against the tougher level of competition at the Nike Hoop Summit, though, and is expected to make a smooth transition to college basketball. He had 13 points on 10 shots, nine rebounds and nine assists in 30 minutes in the World team’s two-point victory over a US squad built with the sort of athletes he will face playing for LSU.
Simmons’ top skill, and what separates him from the average 6-10 combo forward, is his passing. He is an unselfish playmaker and a versatile shot creator for others in all aspects of the game — in transition, with his back to the basket from the low post, handling from the perimeter against a set defense, getting into the lane against a scrambling defense and from the high post against the zone.
Simmons is constantly looking to pass on the move and assist cutters or shooters spotting up around the perimeter. More impressively for someone his age, Simmons is not the sort of passer who needs to monopolize possessions to scan the floor — he is a quick ball mover. His height is a tremendous asset in seeing over the top of the defense in traffic or against double teams. Simmons has proven able to anticipate rotations and traps well, but is sometimes in a rush kicking the ball out, which makes him turnover prone.
Simmons is an excellent scorer in transition. He has long strides to quickly go from end-to-end, doing so in just four steps from the half-court line to the rim. He can play above the rim as a target for lobs, too, filling the wing on the break.
Simmons was a less impressive scorer against set defenses in the half-court by the end of the year, though. His performances in March and April should be put into the context — he went through a marathon, flying from Chicago to New York to Portland in a short period to participate in the McDonalds All American Game, the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Championship and the Nike Hoop Summit. Nonetheless, Simmons struggled to score efficiently in those events. He lacked quickness to turn the corner out of the pick-and-roll or get by his man in isolation, flashing the ability to go from side-to-side to force his man into hesitation but unable to blow by anyone and attack length with explosiveness.
From the perimeter, Simmons is at his best against a scrambling defense. His long strides help him get by opponents closing out off balance. Since he is a poor shooter at this stage of his career, Simmons makes an impact driving in semi-transition or out of the short roll. If his jump shot improves to the point where opponents have to respect him from the 3-point line, opportunities to attack closeouts on spot-ups and out of the pick-and-pop will open up significantly.
Simmons usually scores against challengers at the rim on short pull-ups just outside the restricted area or scoop shots, raising the ball high and using his off arm to create separation. But the best outcome on his drives tend to be foul shots, as his large frame often leads to contact. Simmons ought to improve as a free throw shooter to capitalize on those opportunities, however. He is below average for someone with his ball skills.
Simmons was used mostly as a post player in the national tournament and, while he did very well as a passer out of doubles, he struggled to score when he didn’t have a substantial size advantage on one-on-one matchups. When he got deep seals, Simmons showed some explosiveness turning around for dunks out of a standstill position but mostly did poorly out of either side of the block. He showed no makings of a hook shot and struggled badly on turnaround or step-back jump shots.
Simmons is a poor outside shooter in general, actively avoiding taking shots off the bounce, which allows opponents to sag off and go under screens when he is handling from the perimeter. On catch-and-shoot opportunities, Simmons set a short base, went through a methodical release, dipping for rhythm but without elevating much off the ground, often lacking touch on misses.
Simmons has shown to be a solid defender when engaged. He got on his stance at the Hoop Summit and worked hard to navigate through picks, proving the ability to slide over despite his size. He has enough lateral mobility to stay in front of wings in isolation, the lower-body strength to contain dribble penetration through contact and the length to contest perimeter shots effectively.
Simmons is not built to pick up smaller guards on switches, though. Faster types can go around him with relative ease. He hasn’t done well against true big men, either, playing soft defense against more physical players in the post.
When engaged, Simmons protects the front of the rim well and is willing to draw charges. However, he is not an aggressive help defender coming off the weak-side and does not play above the rim as a constant threat to block shots. He is also sort of a liability on the glass, more often looking to rely on his athleticism to track the ball off the rim and his 6-11 wingspan to grab the ball at a high point rather than getting physical with opponents and boxing out diligently.