On the surface, choosing Ben Simmons as the second pick in the 2016 NBA draft is an easy decision to make if you are Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers. Then again, hiring Phil Jackson over Mike D’Antoni in 2012 seemed like choosing gold instead of copper. This time around, however, there are more variables that need to be considered if Philadelphia chooses Duke star Brandon Ingram as the number one overall pick. In this article, I explore all of the elements that need to be considered by the Lakers before they make one of the biggest decisions in the franchises’ illustrious history.
Why they should: The Los Angeles Lakers had plenty of big time players on their Showtime squad in the 1980’s. James Worthy was a perennial All-Star and Finals MVP in 1988. AC Green and Kurt Rambis would control rebounds and dish it out to fast break players like Byron Scott and Michael Cooper for easy lay-ups. And, of course, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was lethal in the post with the patented Skyhook. The Lakers, nevertheless, would not have won any of their five championships in the 1980’s had it not been for the heroics of one man: Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The 6’9”, 225-pound champion from Michigan State had rare vision and skillful passing ability for a point-guard. Although his jump shot was nowhere near as great as that of Stephen Curry, Magic was able to run fast breaks, see over smaller defenders, and make otherworldly passes. If the Lakers, as they are currently (and atrociously) constructed, have an opportunity to get someone with Magic’s potential, they need to grab that player immediately. Luckily, Ben Simmons fits the mold, and then some.
The 6’10” small forward out of LSU weighs 15 more pounds than Earvin and has the ability to play against much bigger and taller competition. Ben Simmons runs the offense like a point-guard, rebounds almost effortlessly with a 7’0” wingspan (which is equal to that of LeBron James), and has the post moves of a center. His ability to be ambidextrous in the post, sidestep defenders with finesse, and control the pace of the game makes him an all-around talent that the Lakers cannot afford to pass on. In a year where people questioned how badly he actually wanted to play college basketball, the Australian phenomenon averaged 19.2 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game, and 4.8 assists per game. With a combined 65-181 record in the past three seasons, the Lakers need a dynamic player who can return them to relevancy and bring out the best attributes in his teammates. As the game is transitioning toward small ball, Ben Simmons will be a threat in the NBA because of his strong post presence and vision. If you put him at the top of the key with the ball, he will be able to see over defenders like Draymond Green or LeBron James and pass it to cutting guards who will have clear layups due to the lack of blocking on the floor. If you put Simmons in the post, his uncanny moves for a small forward will force double teams and wide open three pointers for his teammates. While saying this, I must mention a few areas of Simmon’s game that he needs to improve if he wants to be a top three player in the NBA. He has a decent jump shot form, but his unwillingness to utilize that aspect of his game makes him less effective overall. Ben Simmons also needs to be more alert and engaged on the defensive end of the floor. In his freshman season at LSU, Simmons didn’t really want to be there; he was only playing because he had to due to the NBA’s rule that he must be one year removed his high school graduation in order to be draft-eligible. This mind frame weakened his defense and opponents had an easy time in the post. If Simmons were to improve upon these elements of his already stellar skill set, he will be a top-tier NBA player in the near future. Unless the Lakers get a Kevin Durant or a LeBron James in free agency, Ben Simmons is a must take because of his powerful potential and superb skill set.
WHY THEY SHOULD NOT: It’s defiantly tough to give any reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers should not take a once-in-a-generation talent if he were to fall to the second pick, but there are a few legitimate reasons to pass on Ben Simmons. Although he is by far the most gifted player in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Lakers would also need to consider whether he would be the right piece for their future. One variable that needs to be considered is Kevin Durant. If the Lakers were to select Simmons, they would be pretty much be conceding any chances that they have of signing Durant or LeBron James in free agency. Both Simmons and Durant play the small-forward position, and moving Durant to power-forward may make him hesitant to play with the Lakers. Just last year, a significant part of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision not to go to the Lakers had to do with the fact that he would have to be moved to center in order to accompany Julius Randle. And although it is very unlikely that LeBron leaves Cleveland in the first place, the chances of him going to the abysmal Lakers with a player who plays his position are slim to none.
Another variable that the Lakers need to also consider is the Buddy Hield effect. My colleague, analyst Franco Estores, explained to me that Hield hit 85 out of 100 3’s in a workout for the Boston Celtics. If the Lakers were to select the senior shooting guard out of Oklahoma, they would be adding a knockdown shooter to space the floor and allow D’Angelo Russell to drive to the hole while defenders are stuck to Hield. In the wake of Kobe Bryant retiring, selecting a shooting guard who has the potential to be one of the deadliest snipers in the NBA will give the Lakers a player to build a future around. Because of their potential, a combination of Hield, Russell, and Randle would be much more attractive to a Kevin Durant and others. A sign-and-trade deal with Jordan Clarkson could also potentially bring another player to the Lakers roster if they were to select Buddy Hield instead of Ben Simmons. Though it is very unlikely that the Lakers pass on the LSU prospect, the factors mentioned here demonstrate the possibility after the franchise considers all of its options.
All stats courtesy of College Basketball at Sports Reference.com, Basketball-Reference.com, and Draftexpress.com unless otherwise noted
Buddy Hield’s workout stats was first reported by Jeff Goodman of ESPN
Image courtesy of 247Sports