(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
Ben Simmons enters college basketball as the top player out of high school for good reason. Aside from just leading Montverde Academy to its third straight national title, Simmons possesses a unique combination of size and skill that makes him the exact sort of player every pro team is looking for these days.
Simmons dominated last season (averages of 28 points and 12 rebounds in the state of Florida) due to his age (he was an 18-year-old senior) and physical profile (six-foot-10, 229-pound frame) and 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 transition to college basketball fine. He had 13 points on 10 shots, nine rebounds and nine assists in 30 minutes, helping lead the World team to a two-point victory over a US squad built with the exact sort of athletes he will face playing for LSU.
His top skill, and what separates him from the average six-foot-10 combo forward, is his passing. Simmons is an extremely unselfish playmaker and a very versatile shot creator for others in all phases of the game – in transition, with his back to the basket from the low post, handling from the top against a set defense in the half-court, getting into the lane against a scrambling defense and from the high post against the zone.
He 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 possession for a lot of time to scan the defense. He is a quick ball mover. His height is a tremendous asset to help him see over the top of the defense in traffic or against double teams. Simmons has proven able to anticipate rotations and traps well but sometimes hurries kicking the ball out, which makes him turnover prone.
Simmons is an excellent scorer in transition. He has long strides to go from end-to-end quickly, proving able to go from the half-court line to the rim in just four steps. He can also play above the rim as a target for lobs filling the wing on the break.
Simmons was a less impressive scorer against a set defense in the half-court in the end of the year, though. His performances in March and April should be put into the context that 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 against the athletes he played against in these 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 just blow by anyone and attack length with explosiveness.
From the perimeter, Simmons can get into the lane best against a scrambling defense. His long strides can help him get by people who are closing out to him off balance. Since he is a poor shooter at this point, Simmons can make an impact driving in semi-transition or out of the short roll. If he improves his jump-shot and opponents have to respect him on the outside, opportunities to attack closeouts on spot-ups and out of the pick-and-pop will open up as well.
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 some 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 when doubled, he struggled to show scoring prowess 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 here and there but mostly did poorly out of either side of the block. He showed no turnaround hook 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 permits the opponent to sag off him 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 his misses. According to Max Preps, he missed 36 of his 51 three-point shots in the state of Florida.
He’s shown to be a solid defender, when engaged. Simmons got on his stance at the Hoop Summit and worked hard to navigate picks, proving able 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. Those faster types can go around him with relative ease. He also hasn’t done well against true big men, playing soft defense against more physical types in the post.
When engaged, Simmons has proved attentive to step in, helping protect the front of the rim willing to draw charges but 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 tracking the ball off the rim and his six-foot-11 wingspan to grab the ball at a high point than getting physical with the opponent and boxing out diligently.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara