Ben Simmons: The Next ‘One that Got Away’ for the Sixers


Sixers fans are already turning their attention to the nation’s most talked about player.

As the Sixers were stumbling down the stretch of their 15th loss of the season, a good chunk of the basketball world’s focus was on the performance of the next big thing in the ‘tanking’ community: LSU freshman phenom Ben Simmons. The Australian wing had just capped off a 21 point, 20 rebound, 7 assist performance, albeit in a losing effort, against Marquette at Barclay’s Center. Simmons joined some elite company with his showing in this, just his 4th game at LSU.

Simmons is averaging 19.3 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists a contest in his young college career. While the Aussie hasn’t exactly snuck up on anyone, given his lofty preseason expectations, one could argue Simmons has exceeded the hype that followed him to Baton Rouge.

Since Sam Hinkie took over as Sixers general manager, those following the team have eased the frustration of record-setting futility by becoming enamored with the prized prospect in each of the last two drafts. First it was Andrew Wiggins, who salted the wounds of Sixers fans Monday night with a dominant 32-point performance en route to a Timberwolves win. The following year, it was D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns serving as the apple of the ‘Trusters’ (of the Process)’ eye. In each draft, the lottery balls did not fall the Sixers way and, as a result, the organization finds itself further behind in their ambitious rebuilding process than other teams that have found themselves toward the top of the lottery.

For all of the vitriol that follows the Sixers’ approach to team-building, they haven’t finished with the worst record in the league in either full season with Hinkie at the helm. One cannot necessarily say they’ve been jobbed out of getting the top pick in either draft. As one who stands firmly on the side of the fence that supports Hinkie’s plan, I would argue the frustration comes more from seeing a team like Minnesota benefit from years of mismanagement as a result of sheer luck. Timing is important when it comes to fast-tracking a rebuilding process. The Timberwolves were able to turn a nasty situation with Kevin Love into a potential franchise-altering coup when they were able to acquire Wiggins from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The structure of the league is such that forces teams to take drastic measures if they hope to climb their way out of NBA purgatory. As many saw last offseason, even the once-popular free agent destinations like Los Angeles and New York aren’t enough to sway the top talent in the league. Players want to win and it takes a solid foundation of established talent to attract free agents. Meanwhile, the uncertainty of the lottery even makes those teams like the Sixers, who suffer in the short-term to position themselves to land the top talent in the draft, have to sweat out the process.

It’s early in Ben Simmons’ college career, but he’s already reached the level of adoration, borderline obsession even, that Andrew Wiggins once held in the eyes of Sixer fans. Though Simmons is more of a facilitator on the offensive end than Wiggins was at Kansas, his ceiling is tantalizing and would likely make fans forget the past two years of struggles if he ended up in Philadelphia. He has already drawn comparisons to some current and former NBA greats and seems capable of stepping in and elevating whatever team lucky enough to land him in next year’s draft to a new level of respectability.

In the current era of space-and-pace that has taken over the NBA, Simmons is the ideal prospect. He’s a matchup nightmare capable of playing multiple positions. Simmons can score from all over the floor, has impeccable court vision, can rebound, and possesses exceptional athleticism. From the Sixers perspective, Simmons would immediately step in as the team’s best player and likely preserve Brett Brown’s sanity. Aside from Joel Embiid magically stepping on the court with a clean bill of health for the future, it’s hard to think of a scenario that would appease all those in the Sixers organization that have endured the past two seasons.

With visions of Ben Simmons in red-white-and-blue dancing in their heads, Sixers fans must once again brace themselves with the prospect of another devastating result when it comes to the 2016 Draft. There is a world where Simmons could end up with the Lakers or the Celtics, with the Sixers potentially backed into a corner where they’d have to draft another big man: Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere. Even with four potential first round picks in next year’s draft, the Sixers could find themselves on the wrong end of their own tactic once more. Though there won’t be a team with a better chance to land the first overall pick, especially with the potential of a Sacramento Kings swap increasing their odds, it’s starting to feel as if it’s best for Sixers fans to keep their distance.

One could argue that Simmons is a better prospect than Towns and is on par with Wiggins as far as his ceiling is concerned. It will be interesting to see what types of ratings LSU basketball games garner in the Philadelphia market. If it hasn’t already happened, Sixers fans will fall in love with the idea of Simmons before the New Year. A word of caution, however. Given which other teams could possibly end up with the prize of the 2016 Draft, missing out on Simmons could be the most painful scenario of the Hinkie era.

In the meantime, enjoy this collection of Simmons’ highlights vs. Marquette. (h/t to Liberty Ballers contributor Jake Pavorsky for the Vines.