Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 50 players in the NBA. To be clear, these are 50 best players for the 2016-17 season, regardless of team situation, past performance or future potential. If you’re trying to win a championship in 2016-17, these are the 50 players you’d want most.
Why He’s Great: Here are the things Ben Simmons is going to be able to do from Day 1. Not “down the line,” not “some time during his rookie season,” right now, as in, if he stepped on a court with NBA players right now he’d already be able to do these things:
- Direct offensive traffic from either the perimeter or the high post and pass to literally any point on the court effectively.
- Score efficiently within five feet of the hoop.
- Make a major defensive impact with his length alone.
- Consistently put up double-doubles on sheer talent alone.
Really think about how many players can do all of those things. It’s a short list. LeBron James, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins are the only three names I’d list with any confidence. That’s what Simmons is going to be from the moment he steps onto the court.
The question isn’t how good he’s going to become, it’s how to best utilize those specific talents. Is Simmons going to be a power forward? A point center? Or should he just play nominal point guard and force opponents into matchup problems?
These are questions that will be answered during his career, but for a smart coach, they’re also devastating options for using Simmons right now. He has as much positional versatility as anyone in the NBA besides James and Giannis Antetokuonmpo (and, spoiler alert, they both show up much higher on this list). Even if he isn’t instantly a triple-double machine, to a smart coach, he’s one of the most useful weapons in basketball, a point guard with the body to play center and the skills to play forward. He’d be a high-end starter on a contender right now if one had been able to draft him.
Why He’s Below No. 48 (Serge Ibaka): For all of the things that Simmons does well, he has just as many legitimate holes in his game. He can’t shoot. He loafs on defense. He’s a rookie who has never played with close to NBA-level talent.
These are not holes for Ibaka. Serge plays excellent defense. Serge is a fantastic shooter for a big man. Serge has been in the NBA and played on the biggest stages the league has to offer. He may not be able to do everything Simmons does, but he offers enough to line up ahead of a rookie with a swiss-cheese skill set.