Aussie Simmons likely No. 1 pick in NBA draft

ByBradford Doolittle ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Tuesday began, Melbourne, Australia, native Ben Simmons didn't know whether he'd be the top overall pick of the NBA's draft next month. He still doesn't. But after the Philadelphia 76ers landed the first pick Tuesday via the lottery -- and the Los Angeles Lakers stayed put at No. 2 -- at least Simmons knows which team will be making the decision.

What do the lottery results mean for Simmons' NBA future? Let's consider the pros of the Lakers and the Sixers, FAQ style.

Will Simmons be the first pick?

ESPN's Chad Ford thinks so, but it's not a sure thing. Throughout the college season and subsequent draft process, Duke's Brandon Ingram has gained on Simmons in more and more prospect rankings, and passed him on some.

What makes the comparison between Simmons and Ingram so compelling is that they are very different players. Simmons is a point guard in a big forward's body. He's already got an NBA body type, though his relative lack of wingspan has some concerned about his defensive potential. Still, he's a great passer and rebounder. His weak spot is a big one: Simmons is a lackluster outside shooter.

Meanwhile, Ingram has an elite 7-foot-3 wingspan that marks him as a premier defensive prospect and a perfect fit for the NBA small forward position. He's very young and thin and will need to develop his body. He's not as athletic as Simmons, but he is a much better shooter.

It may come down to fit, though the teams at the top of the NBA draft tend to opt for the player they feel has the greatest long-term upside. Ford thinks that's Simmons. If the Sixers think differently, the Lakers will gladly pounce on him with the second pick.

Which team will get Simmons on the court quicker and more often?

It's a tie. The Sixers have more options at Simmons' position but have a dire need for the kind of passing he can provide. Simmons is more physically mature than Ingram and will see plenty of time as a rookie no matter where he goes.

Is the on-court playing style of Sixers or Lakers better-suited for Simmons?

The Lakers have hired a new coach in Luke Walton and for the first time in 20 years will begin a season without Kobe Bryant as part of the team. So right now, Los Angeles doesn't really have an on-court style. That said, Walton has been immersed in the powerfully successful program at Golden State the last couple of years and has seen the benefits of playing that style of aggressive, sweet-shooting basketball. The Warriors also feature a skilled big forward in Draymond Green who is at least somewhat similar to Simmons.

The Sixers have played a style of offense that features pick-and-roll play heavy on driving into the lane and kicking out to 3-point shooters. Normally a point guard ignites that kind of attack and a forward would play off of that. With Simmons, the dynamic would be reversed. In that sense, Ingram is the better fit. Ingram is the better fit on any team because his skill set -- the ability to shoot with range off the ball while playing impactful defense -- is one that teams covet.

Simmons is a unique player and that can come with certain complications. You have to build your system around him. That's not necessarily a problem though, because if a player is good enough, teams will want to build around him and make sure the ball is in his hands as often as possible.

What about off the court?

Simmons has ties to both the Sixers and Lakers that should accelerate his process of finding the kind of comfort zone that will allow him to grow his NBA game. Philadelphia coach Brett Brown has deep roots in Australian basketball, winning NBL coach of the year in 1994 and coaching the national team in the 2012 Olympics. As an assistant for the Melbourne Tigers, Brown coached Simmons' father, David, and has known Ben his entire life.

The Lakers, of course, are one of the NBA's marquee franchises, and Los Angeles has a more Australian-friendly climate than Philadelphia. With Bryant retired, the Lakers are seeking another franchise face to lead their rebuild, and Simmons would seem to be a perfect fit in that regard. But best of all: Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell teamed with Simmons to lead Montverde (Florida) Academy to a high school national championship.

What are the financial ramifications of going first or second?

The NBA's rookie scale for first-round contracts mandates that the first pick will get around $500,000 more than the second pick in first-year salary. More significantly, there have been reports over the past week that suggest Simmons and his agent, Rich Paul, had been hoping the Lakers would land the first choice to enhance their negotiating position with shoe companies. While market size isn't necessarily a huge factor in the NBA when it comes to shoe contracts, brands have tended to look more favorably on players who toil in New York or Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, the league promotes its top players regardless of the city they call home. The NBA itself is the biggest marketing platform for the league's stars. So it's far more important that Simmons actually become a star than it is that he be drafted by the Lakers. After all, LeBron James has played most of his career in Cleveland, Ohio, and he's done pretty well in the endorsement arena.

Which team is closer to winning?

That's hard to say. Both teams are terrible, which is why they are selecting first and second in the draft. Both have acquired some young talent in recent seasons to build around. Philadelphia has been more active in acquiring extra picks over the years, so it has a larger collection of young talent on hand.

The Sixers also expect to get injured center Joel Embiid back next season and should welcome touted Croatian forward Dario Saric into the fold in the next year or two. However, while the Sixers have a number of promising prospects, a list which Simmons would surely top, a number of those young players play similar positions. So there is a lot that Philadelphia must sort out. Still, the Sixers clearly have more with which to work than the Lakers.

That could conceivably change over the summer, as both teams have a lot of salary-cap space to spend. The Lakers have traditionally been a bigger draw for NBA free agents, but they haven't had good luck in that regard in recent years.

Would Simmons be the first Australian to be picked first in the NBA draft?

No! Golden State center Andrew Bogut was taken with the first pick of the 2005 by the Milwaukee Bucks. Also, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving, the top pick in 2011, was born in Melbourne. Other Australians selected in the top 10 of an NBA draft include guard Dante Exum, taken at No. 5 in 2014 by the Utah Jazz, and Luc Longley, the seventh pick in 1991 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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