The Philadelphia 76ers selected Australian born Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick in the draft Thursday night. The point forward wunderkind out of LSU is the latest high prospect in this long rebuilding effort over two different management movements to give the Sixers what they've been looking for since Sam Hinkie decided to tear this thing to the ground and aggressively rebuild through extreme measures. They've been looking for a franchise guy who can be their leader into the next decade in hopes of becoming a staple in the conversation for title contenders.
Bryan Colangelo has control of the franchise after the departure of Hinkie, but they've got the same goals in grabbing the top prospect in this draft. What Simmons brings to this core is a playmaker they can believe in, and the size in that role to create countless match-up problems for their opponents. The addition of Simmons doesn't come without risks. But those risks seem to pale in comparison of what he could end up being on the basketball court.
Simmons has often been compared to LeBron James (as a prospect) because they're both bigger forwards who handle the ball and direct the offense. Maybe a more apt comparison is someone like Lamar Odom coming out of Rhode Island. Simmons has the ability at 6-foot-10 to pick apart a defense because he can see the floor without a lot of obstacles in his vision. He can handle the ball, attack bigger and smaller defenders, and find anybody on his team with great anticipation.
The Sixers were 12th in potential assists for a couple of reasons. First, they play at a very high pace in an attempt to create enough chaos and give their developing guys enough reps to speed up the process. They also play a pretty modern brand of basketball under Brett Brown. They take a lot of 3-point attempts, but they haven't had the shooting to take advantage of that. They've barely had the playmakers to create better shots either.
Their offense seemed to open up a bit with Ish Smith becoming the point guard in the middle of the season, but with Simmons being the primary facilitator, you'll have many more opportunities to draw the attention of the defense and create better looks for teammates. That's the benefit of Simmons right off the bat. They finally have a guy who can command attention from all over the half court. Even with his lack of shooting ability as he enters the league, he's still a threat to create with his size and skill set.
If you can pair him with a healthy Joel Embiid, you've got two potential franchise players right off the bat, and the flexibility to move Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor down the road for more help to round out the attack. Even if Embiid can't be a guy you rely on being able to play consistently in the future, Simmons' versatility creates a lot of options for the Sixers moving forward.
He was a stellar post-up player at LSU, both as a scorer and a passer. His pick-and-roll numbers don't do much for you, but he was also playing with a lot of guys who struggled to make shots. He was decent enough shooting off the dribble (37 percent) and never received many chances to show he could make open jumpers because the defense keyed in on him. For the Sixers, even as they still struggle in the near future on the court, he'll get more opportunities to round out his game.
And his presence will lift the play of those around him. The Sixers are completely fixed in just a couple of months in the post-Hinkie era. A lot of what he set up allows them to have this opportunity to add a player of Simmons' potential to the group. This is a great start toward respectability on the court and the combination of Brown's teaching with Simmons' abilities could galvanize this organization.