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Suns Draft Watch: First Impressions — Ben Simmons

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

The Phoenix Suns’ on-court product in 2015-16 has led local basketball fans to come to one conclusion: It’s time to start watching college basketball.

I like the NBA more than the college game, so forcing myself to watch these games is a little bit like homework was in high school — a necessary evil.

This series of articles is going to be called “First Impressions.” The concept is to watch a player for the first time and give my initial thoughts. This is just the start and not a final evaluation — there’s lots of time for opinions to evolve with more viewing.


We’ll start with LSU freshman Ben Simmons, the likely top overall pick in June’s draft.

I watched Simmons and LSU take on Oklahoma on Jan. 30. — a game Oklahoma won, 77-75.

Simmons was taller, longer and built thicker than I was expecting. Looking up his measurements on Draft Express after the game, he is 6’10” in shoes with a 7’0.25″ wing span, 9’0.5″ standing reach, 37-inch no step vertical and 41.5-inch max vertical.

Those are some serious tools to work with and Simmons uses them well and he adds a high skill level to go with them.

At the end of this process a few months from now I’d be shocked if I liked anyone’s game more than Simmons. The Tigers’ big man is exactly what Phoenix needs.

Simmons mixes skill and athletic ability with high IQ, which is an area the Suns need serious improvement.

It’s difficult to pick a spot to start with Simmons’ game, but I’ll get going with this: Anyone throwing out LeBron James as a comparison is off base. Simmons is a power forward/center prospect rather than a wing prospect. Remember, James started off in the NBA playing point guard. That’s not happening with Simmons.

Simmons is a terrific passer. He hits the open man handling double-teams out of the post, passes off the dribble and looks ahead for outlets in the backcourt.

To take advantage of this skill in the NBA, he needs to be surrounded by players who know how to move without the ball and get into open space. This can be done with cutting, flashing and having a good feel about where to spot up on the perimeter. If you have a stagnant one-on-one offense, you won’t be able to maximize this. Simmons’ passing ability would push the Suns towards more off-ball movement.

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He’s not comfortable taking his jumper yet, but he did knock down a one or two-dribble foul line-area pull-up. Simmons has a high release that’s almost impossible to block and shoots 71 percent from the foul line, showing he’s not a lost cause.

The LSU product can create for himself off the dribble, which will only get more dangerous as his jumper improves. Simmons can finish with both hands (he’s a lefty) and knows how to use his length to get shots off.

Simmons’ skills aren’t just relegated to the offensive end; he has some solid defensive characteristics already.

What I like about Simmons is he has the potential to defend vertically at the rim and laterally on the perimeter. A big man having one of these skills can usually find a way to stick in the NBA. Someone with both skills has the potential to be a special defensive player if developed correctly.

LSU used Simmons to switch onto guards in pick-and-rolls and he held his own. He did an excellent job understanding how to use his length to keep his distance, yet still be able to contest shots.

Inside, there wasn’t much in this game of him jumping straight up and down vertically. He did use his standing reach to impact shots at the rim. Simmons is aware of what’s going on off the ball, but there is room for improvement with positioning and anticipation as you would expect with a 19-year-old.

Not ready to comment on his rebounding, I’ll have to get a better idea of what he does there in future viewing.

One of my immediate conclusions is he and Devin Booker would fit together very well. Booker has a varied offensive repertoire that could be used in a two-man game or working off the ball as Simmons sets up the current Suns rookie for easy looks.

They both have good feel for the game, giving the Suns two plus passers at their positions and two players with great basketball IQs.

It didn’t take long to see Simmons is someone the Suns are going to end up having their eye on when the draft rolls around. It’s just a question of if they will be in the position to take him.

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