Are you ready for the best Australian NBA prospect ever?
The moment is almost here. More than a year since a fractured metatarsal turned excitement into frustration, and the words 'no timetable for return' started haunting the hearts and minds of Aussie hoops fans, the time is nigh. Cross fingers, knock on wood, trust the process - Ben Simmons is on the verge of making his fully-fledged NBA debut.
We don't know a whole lot more about what to expect from Simmons than we did before that fateful injury on September 30th last year. But we've learned a bit, and boy does it look tantalising.
'Simmons is a freaking beast'
Through three preseason games, Simmons has showed that he is ready to make an impact at the NBA level from the get-go. He has flashed his ability to contribute all over the floor, putting up per game numbers of 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals and a block in 23.6 minutes of action.
Just as we saw in his college season at LSU, and an eye-catching 2016 NBA Summer League performance, those 5.3 assists are no ordinary assists. They’re highlight reel material, showcasing the kind of creativity and court vision possessed by very few point guards, let alone an athletic beast who stands at 6'10". Yes, it's only preseason. Yes, it's only three games. But it's clear to anyone watching that Simmons is the real deal.
Following Simmons' nine-assist performance against the Grizzlies in the preseason opener, The Inquirer's Marc Narducci asked Memphis coach David Fizdale for his thoughts on the Aussie rookie's game. To say Fizdale was effusive in his praise would be an understatement.
Oh my god, I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years. That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. The way he moves with the ball, his ability to see the floor, the way he can get places on the floor. Then once he gets confidence in his shot where you've really got to close out on him to the three… Wow, he’s a big-time talent.
A few days later, in his preseason NBA tiers column, ESPN's Zach Lowe made it clear that he's on board the Simmons bandwagon too.
Ben Simmons is so fast in transition, it's almost jarring given his size. Simmons is a freaking beast. He hasn't played one game, and it's already clear he's an elite passer.
It's true. There are currently two players in the NBA that have that same terrifying combination of size, speed and ball-handling ability in the open court. Their names are LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo - you might've heard of them. Of course, rookie Ben Simmons is certainly a long way from being spoken about in the same breath as those guys, but they're two clear examples of the utterly devastating potential of that unique set of attributes.
Let's not ignore the elephant in the room - the concerns about Simmons' jump shot are real. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor is convinced Simmons is shooting with the wrong hand, and he makes a compelling argument. But hey, Giannis shot 27% from 3pt range and 34% from mid-range (10-16 feet) last season, and he made the All-NBA Second Team. The best bandaid for a questionable jump shot is being the primary ball handler. And this is where we get to the crux of it.
The keys to the car
The most promising sign from Simmons' preseason thus far is not what he has done, but what he is being asked to do. If there was any lingering doubt about Sixers Coach Brett Brown's repeated insistence that he intends to play Simmons at point guard, it has been dispelled in this preseason. Simmons has the keys to the 76ers car, and he's ready to drive.
It's the perfect position for Simmons to succeed. With ball in hand, he has the opportunity to maximise his sublime passing skills and showcase his grab-and-go transition offence, while minimising spacing issues as he develops his jump shot.
Ultimately, this is a primary ball handler's league. Seven of the top ten on SI's top 100 NBA player rankings can be classified as the 'point guard/forward' on their team. It's the road most traveled to superstardom. And it's why Ben Simmons is Australia's best ever NBA prospect. As a leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year honours, NBA future odds have the 76ers pegged as a long-shot to challenge for an NBA title any time soon, something that Simmons and the rest of the team will be determined to contest.
The best of the best
Simmons is one of only six Australians taken in the first round of the the NBA draft, alongside legends of the game in Luc Longley (pick 7, 1991), Chris Anstey (pick 18, 1997) and Andrew Bogut (pick 1, 2005), as well as two other young Aussies currently trying to establish themselves in the league - Dante Exum (pick 5, 2014) and Thon Maker (pick 10, 2016).
As number one picks, Bogut and Simmons stand above the rest in terms of expectation and potential entering the league.
Don't think for a second that I'm here to pay short thrift to Andrew Bogut. I'm not forgetting his MVP-performance in Australia's FIBA U19 World Championship-winning Emus team, or the fact that he put up 20.4 points on 62% FG and 12.2 rebounds in his sophomore year at the University of Utah. There's a reason the Bucks drafted Bogut over the likes of Deron Williams and Chris Paul. This is a close call.
But operating as the primary ball handler gives Simmons the chance to impact the game on another level. This is the first Aussie to ever truly get the keys to an NBA team. Strap in, it's going to be a hell of a ride.
Thanks to our partner Brotherhood Studios for the video and graphic.