Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
LSU’s Simmons stars at Legends Classic as NBA hype comes to Brooklyn
NEW YORK – LSU freshman sensation Ben Simmons had a monster game against Marquette in a Legends Classic semifinal on Monday evening, finishing with 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists in an 81-80 Tigers loss.
That stat line is eye-opening, but to at least Tigers head coach Johnny Jones, numbers like those, while very impressive, are a bit of a problem.
“As a team, we can’t ask him to put up those kinds of numbers night in and night out,” Jones said. “We have to make sure we carry our weight across the board and allow Ben to be able to make sure that he can come in. He was forced tonight to put himself in a position tonight to get 21 and 20 to give us an opportunity. We have too many guys out there.
“I thought Ben played an excellent game with a sense of urgency when it was needed.”
A lot of eyes were focused on Monday night’s contest, largely because of Simmons, who is currently slotted as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft according to DraftExpress.com, but is considered the potential No. 1 pick by several other reputable outlets. The site currently has Kentucky freshman center Skal Labissiere at No. 1.
Among the 51 NBA personnel slated to be at Barclays on Tuesday were a host of NBA GMs and executives, including Danny Ainge (Celtics) Bob Myers (Warriors) Tim Connelly (Nuggets) and David Griffin (Cavaliers).
Knicks scout Kristian Petesic represented the franchise on Monday, while Nets Director of Player Personnel Gregg Polinsky was also present. Neither the Nets nor the Knicks own their own first-round pick. The latter is ironic given Simmons played Monday in the Nets’ building. The Celtics have the Nets’ 2016 pick as a result of the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce 2013 draft night trade.
“I think it’s still early in the season,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress told SNY.tv. “I think both are really, really good prospects. I think there’s still a lot of college basketball left to be played out, but I think Ben Simmons made a major statement tonight without a question.”
Much was made of Simmons matching up with Marquette freshman star Henry Ellenson, the projected No. 8 pick in 2016 who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds while battling foul trouble. In trying to drag the Tigers across the finish line Monday at Barclays Center, the 6-foot-10 Melbourne, Australia, native and one-time star at prep power Montverde Academy showed off much of his repertoire.
At one point early in the first half, Simmons led the break, eventually splitting two defenders with a perfect bounce pass to classmate Antonio Blakeney for a layup. A short time later, Simmons hauled in a rebound, went coast-to-coast and dunked on Golden Eagles forward Luke Fischer, capping it with an emphatic scream.
“Definitely not, it’s another game to me,” Simmons said when asked if the game seemed bigger being in New York and going against Ellenson. “It’s another team we have to beat, but clearly we didn’t do that, but I think it was a good lesson for the team. We’d rather lose now than later. For now, it’s just a learning curve.”
His learning curve is good enough now to wow NBA scouts.
“One of the best I have ever seen, a generational player,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “He can defend when he focuses and applies himself. We did not see a perimeter jumper tonight.”
“I think he showed a lot of the same things that we know,” Givony said. “He’s an elite passer, he’s a tremendous ball-handler, he’s phenomenal in transition, he’s incredibly versatile for his size. He’s a great rebounder.”
Simmons being compared to the likes of Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Lamar Odom came to the surface on LSU’s final possession when he passed the ball not once, but twice, as Jalyn Patterson’s missed 3-pointer with 3 seconds left sealed the game for Marquette.
“You know the limitations are still the same limitations,” Givony said. “He doesn’t always bring it on defense, and we don’t know if he can shoot. He still has not taken a single 3-point shot all season and that cost him there at the end. And it cost him a lot during the game when they were just playing 10 feet off him, he wasn’t able to punish them. In the NBA that’s a real problem. At LSU that’s not so much of a problem because they can put him at the 5.”
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.