Shaquille O’Neal was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as one of the best to have ever played the game. He has solidified his place in basketball history, and now he is eyeing the next generation of potential stars in the incoming rookie class.
“I don’t know all of them, but I know my guy’s going to be pretty good, Ben Simmons,” O’Neal said last week in Springfield, Mass.
O’Neal said he has paid attention to only the top two picks, Simmons and Brandon Ingram. He got to know Simmons’ game before he was drafted by the Sixers when Simmons attended his alma mater, LSU.
O’Neal recognized Simmons’ multidimensional skillset, from scoring to ball handling to rebounding, which sets him apart as a 6-foot-10 point-forward. Even though Simmons played just one season in college, that was enough time for O’Neal to draw comparisons between him and one of the most talented in the NBA.
"He's a LeBron-type player," O'Neal said. "What I mean by that, LeBron does a nice job of making everybody else around him better — passing the ball, doing the small things — and Ben is that type of player."
O’Neal and Simmons had different college careers en route to becoming number one picks. Over three years, O'Neal averaged 21.6 points and 13.5 rebounds, won numerous personal accolades and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament each season.
Simmons came to LSU with high expectations. But in spite of his 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, the team underperformed and missed the tournament. He also was not eligible for the Wooden Award.
O’Neal defended Simmons’ collegiate performance and expects improvements from the 20-year-old in the NBA.
"He took a lot of flack, especially at LSU with not really taking over games," O'Neal said. "But he's young. He'll get to that.”
Simmons will be a centerpiece of the Sixers system this season. He brings intangibles, versatility and a basketball IQ that is already beyond his years.
“When it comes to other aspects of the game, he's very, very intelligent,” O’Neal said. “He plays the game very well."