For a few years now, people in Philadelphia have been talking about “The Process” that was started by then GM Sam Hinkie. Many believe that the end results of that process, which we are now seeing, have been somewhat underwhelming.
There is a chance that the Sixers could have actually gained a player that could become the next LeBron James. Not in the sense that he could be a great player, but that he could be close to a carbon copy a few years down the road. That player is Ben Simmons, and this is why.
LeBron James is 6’8” and 250 lbs. He’s a physical phenomenon that’s built like a tank and can accelerate like a Mustang. His physical build and ability are one of the top things that makes defending him such a nightmare. Because of his build and talent, LeBron is one of only a few players in NBA history who could legitimately play any of the 5 positions and be dominant at any of them.
Ben Simmons is currently 6’10” and 230 lbs. Just from a build standpoint, he’s already resembling LeBron, and he has time to build up even more. LeBron was 10 pounds lighter than he is now during his rookie season, and he looked frail and scrawny. Now, he’s one of the most intimidating physical presences in the NBA.
If Simmons starts training this offseason, he could end up being one of the scariest guards for a player to have to go up against. And because of his size and skill set, Simmons could also be able to play all 5 positions just a few years down the road.
Granted, stats don’t tell the whole stories. After all, look at Dave Cowens vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on paper, and then watch them play. However, stats do tell a lot of the story; and comparing Simmons’ stats against James’ rookie stats reveals a lot of similarities.
First, Simmons had 15 ppg whereas ‘03-’04 LeBron had 20. If you look at the teams surrounding those two players, you would know why there’s a bit of a discrepancy here. LeBron didn’t have much for teammates in ‘04. In fact, he didn’t have much for a team until he went to the Heat in ‘10. But Simmons had one of the best big men in the league on his team. Simmons had to spread the points and possessions around whereas LeBron could hog the ball a little more.
The interesting part, Simmons beats ‘03-’04 LeBron in every other stat. Now, there are a few potential reasons for this; one, Simmons played a year in college while LeBron came into the league right from high school. While LeBron was one of the highest touted high school players of all time, there is a significant difference in NBA play and high school play. And while college ball doesn’t perfectly prepare you for that, it certainly helps to move you along.
Another reason Simmons stats are higher could be that Simmons has actually been in the league for two years. Meaning, at the same point in their careers, Simmons actually has two more years of basketball experience than LeBron (one year of college and one on the bench). In fact, if we look at James’ numbers in year three (‘05-’06), we see a much different story. By then, LeBron had become almost the same defensive player that Simmons is now. His offense came later, arguably when he went to play for the Heat.
Finally, one last reason Simmons could have higher numbers than LeBron is that there was less expected of LeBron than Simmons. LeBron played for 35 minutes a game in his rookie season, compared to Simmons 33. And if we take in that two-year difference and look at LeBron in his third year, he was playing 42 minutes a game.
So why bring this up? Won’t it hurt the point that Simmons could be the next LeBron? No. Because the first year that LeBron starts to look anything like Simmons in his rookie year is this year. LeBron had 0.9 bpg, 1.4 spg, 9.1 apg, and 8.6 rpg. Simmons had 0.9 bpg, 1.7 spg, 8.3 apg, and 8.1 rpg. LeBron has only beaten that 8.3 apg stat three times in his career; and he’s only beaten the 8.1 rpg twice, this year and last year. If Simmons keeps developing his game, his limit is sky high.
The Eye Test
Before you ask, no, this is not what Green gave James back in game 1. This just means that, watching their styles, Simmons and LeBron seem to resemble each other a lot. With the way Simmons floats to the rim during a layup or how he flys past everyone for an aggressive slam, to how Simmons has even shown he can hit James’ signature shot, that little half layup half hook shot move he does from right outside the restricted area. Simmons has shown glimpses of taking aspects from LeBron's game and using them in his own.
So what does Simmons need to do in order to reach LeBron status? Two things: one, he needs to score more. He needs to hold on to the ball for a few more possessions and make a defender stop him. That will mostly come with time and more minutes; after all, rookies don’t tend to be great all-around players right from the start. The second thing Simmons needs to do is have that killer mentality.
If a Simmons and a LeBron' team are going against each other, Simmons needs to guard LeBron, to show that he has no fear of the man. After that, Simmons could start making a case for himself to be the best player in the world; a title which LeBron has held for the last few years.
In the end, it’s not surprising that Simmons looks a lot like LeBron. Simmons is part of one of the first draft classes where the prospects would look to model their game after LeBron’s more so than Kobe’s or Jordan’s. Not only that, but LeBron has also said that he is going to take Simmons under his wing.
James has his choice of teams to go to in this free agency, and if he chooses the Sixers, it could leave a lasting impact on his legacy not only as being one of the greatest to ever do it but also as a mentor to another hall of fame level player.