For the time being, Ben Simmons still qualifies as a young player.
And, in the opinion of Nate Duncan, host of the Dunc’d on Basketball NBA Podcast, the 23-year-old is sliding among the NBA’s best prospects.
On the latest Habershow podcast with NBC Sports national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh, Duncan ranked the top-10 prospects 23 and under.
Here’s his list:
To Duncan, Simmons’ lack of shooting has a vast impact.
Let’s give him credit for the way he’s developed the other facets of his game,” Duncan said. “I think he has taken incremental steps forward in things other than shooting, He’s a weird player. And to me, people have focused on the corner three — can he space the floor when he doesn’t have the ball?
"I actually think it’s a bigger deal that he can’t shoot a 15-footer when he’s on ball, that you can’t really run a pick-and-roll because you can just go under on him every time or you can switch onto him with a center that he then is not going to be able to beat because he can’t shoot more than three feet away from the basket — and that’s where centers are bigger than him, and they can just wait for him there if they’ve switched onto him.
Duncan also notes that players who shoot 60 percent or worse from the foul line at a high volume (Simmons is at 58.2 percent) hardly ever develop passable jumpers. It’s a sound point, especially given Simmons’ flawed mechanics, flared elbow and all.
Haberstroh, though, has faith in Simmons.
“I think the skills are there, I think the tools are there for him to become a jump shooter,” he said. “Watching him in practice and watching him pregame, it just feels like there’s just a switch. There’s just something that needs to click.”
The best argument for Simmons being too low on Duncan’s list is that the Australian is a stellar defensive player. There are obviously a variety of stats that help capture a player’s defensive value, many of which are limited. Simmons, however, scores well in many categories.
He’s tied with the Bulls’ Kris Dunn for the most steals in the league, first in defensive loose balls recovered per game, fifth in defensive win shares and fifth in deflections per game (minimum 10 games played).
Watching Simmons every game, one also appreciates what he adds defensively outside of statistics, as Haberstroh pointed out.
“He has a Giannis [Antetokounmpo]-type ceiling, to me,” Haberstroh said. “Defensively, he’s incredible. … His ability to lock up guards and his versatility on that end is a huge asset, and it’s one of the things that you can’t see in a box score. It’s harder to quantify that. Certainly, in conversations with your buddies at the bar, defensive versatility isn’t going to trump the whole non-shooting thing.”
Duncan respects the gist of that idea, but he also thinks it can be a crutch for proponents of Simmons.
“Because it’s not quantifiable, they almost use it as a trump card now,” he said. “They’ll just be like, ‘Oh, but his defense is so much better.’ … Simmons, to me, he’s settling in. My projection for him would kind of be lower-end All-Star in the East. As amazing as his physical tools are, I don’t believe he has the upside because I don’t project him to ever shoot it.”
You can listen to the full podcast here.
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