Photo Credit: SLAM
By: Kendall Garriss
When the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Ben Simmons with the first pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Sixers fans gushed at the possibilities of a front court that consisted of Simmons and Joel Embiid. However, Sixers fans would have to wait and “Trust the Process” just a tad longer. On September 30, 2016, Simmons rolled his ankle during the Sixers’ final training camp scrimmage. Subsequent X-ray and MRI testing of his foot and ankle would reveal a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone in Simmons’ right foot. While Simmons was estimated to only miss three to four months, in February the 76ers ruled Simmons out for the rest of the 2016-17 season after further testing revealed that his broken foot had not yet fully healed.
Just a month and a half into his first NBA season, Simmons has more than lived up to his pre-draft hype. Simmons leads all rookies in points (18.7), rebounds (9.5), assists (7.2) and steals (2.1). Because of his size, strength, vision and versatility, many around the league have compared his style of play to that of LeBron James.
On Monday, Simmons and James played their first game as foes as the Cleveland Cavaliers traveled to Philadelphia and all of the chatter leading up to the game revolved around this star matchup. Simmons posted rather pedestrian numbers, logging 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists before leaving the game early with a sprained right ankle. In contrast, James had a 30 point, 13 rebound and six assist outing en route to the Cavs’ 113-91 win.
Philly coach Brett Brown had no desire to entertain the James-Simmons comparison after the Sixers’ loss on Monday, calling it “reckless” to mention Simmons’ name in the same breath as legends such as LeBron or Magic Johnson after having only played 18 games as a pro.
“I get it. I understand it. But Ben hasn’t done, and we haven’t done, anything yet,” Brown said. “And personally, I have been privileged. Sort of my NBA life has been [James’]. I’ve seen LeBron from day one. And you’ve seen him grow. He’s amazing. He is amazing. On the court, how he handles his responsibility on that stage. Off the court, I think he’s got an element of grace, how he handles himself and carries the NBA logo with a tremendous amount of pride.”
Statistically, Simmons is having a better rookie season than James. As a 19-year-old rookie during the 2003-04 season, James averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He shot 41.7 percent from the field, compared to 51.0 percent for the 21-year-old Simmons.
While it’s still early, even James cannot help but to recognize Simmons’ potential. “You have an opportunity,” James told Simmons early on, “to be better than me. But you can’t skip steps. You have to do the work.” Those words helped sustain [Simmons] when he stumbled at LSU and helped fuel him as he rehabbed in Philadelphia. “Is this really going to happen?” he asked himself. He knew, even if others wavered, that it would. Because LeBron said so, and for a prospect of Simmons’s vintage, no endorsement means more. “Part of his greatness,” Simmons says, “is that he wants others to be just as great.”
It would be premature and careless to pass the crown from LeBron James to Ben Simmons, at this stage in his career. However, it is not unreasonable for us to have the conversation and speculate what Simmons’ trajectory could look like if he can maintain his current output and further develop his game.