As an NBA blog, we spend a lot of time covering daily and weekly matchups that come from a grueling 82-game schedule. As a Wizards blog we prepare for a hopeful, but not guaranteed, playoff push. However, some of the best parts of covering basketball versus any other sport, is the effect superstars have on the game and their teams. With only 13 active players on each roster, only 5 playing at any given time, and players playing both offense and defense, superstars rule the NBA. This makes trade speculation and draft talk especially interesting to fans of the sport. The lottery, with all its flaws, gives poor performing teams the dream that they can in one instance go from continuous bottom feeder, to playoff team or championship contender. The results are not always immediate, but nonetheless the past 30 years have shown that if you want to win a championship you must have at least one transcendent player. Free agency, while great, only gives you a shot at getting this player. The NBA Draft guarantees you at least four years of a 1st round pick, which is why most teams (not Brooklyn) cherish these pieces. Anyway, with all that said, Charlie and I decided to head 80 miles up I-10 to see one of the most highly touted recruits in college basketball history, the current consensus #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, freshman power forward Ben Simmons, host #1 ranked Oklahoma and its senior guard Buddy Hield, who has skyrocketed his way up draft boards with his play so far this season.
Freshman power forward Ben Simmons was possibly the highest regarded high school player since Lebron James graduated from St. Vincent–St. Mary in the summer of 2003. Simmons, originally from Melbourne, Australia, where his father Dave was a legend for the Melbourne Tigers of the NBL, moved to the U.S. in January 2013 for his Sophomore year of high school. He attended Montverde Academy, playing with Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell for two years, and helping to lead his team to three straight championships in the High School National Tournament, played annually at Madison Square Garden. Simmons averaged 18.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game his junior year and 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals per game during his senior campaign. Measured 6’9.5’’ in shoes, with a 6’11’’ wingspan and 229 lbs at the 2015 Nike Basketball Academy, Simmons has the length and speed to guard seemingly any position at the next level. The #1 player in the country according to every scouting site, Simmons elected to attend non powerhouse LSU in part because of his relationship with LSU assistant coach David Patrick, who played with Simmons’ father Dave in Australia, and is Simmons godfather.
His freshman season at LSU has been fantastic statistically on an individual level. Simmons is averaging 19.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 5 assists per game, while shooting 56%. Against North Florida in December he posted 43 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 3 blocks on 15-20 shooting. Similar to a few players of past years, Simmons has been projected to go #1 in the NBA draft since early in his senior year of HS, and seems like a lock for that honor.
Most NBA fans had never heard of senior guard Buddy Hield coming into this season. Hield is following a very different path to the NBA than Simmons, and atypical of many top NBA prospects in today’s 1 and done era. Hield was highly recruited coming out of high school having averaged 22.7 points per game in only 21 minutes. His sophomore year at Oklahoma he showed great promise, averaging 16.5 points and being a second team All-Big 12 selection. His junior numbers weren’t much greater in the points column, averaging 17.4 points per game, but he worked on improving his three point shooting and defense to make him a more well-rounded player. After leading Oklahoma to the Sweet Sixteen he was expected to join the 2015 NBA Draft pool and be a first round pick, but he instead chose to return for his senior season. The decision has proved positive thus far, as Hield has pushed his averages to 26 ppg and 52% shooting from three point line, after shooting 36% from three his junior year. He’s also the lead man on the #1 team in the country, causing more scouts to follow his games.
Coming into Saturday’s game Hield had scored 30 in seven games this season and moved from projected late first round pick to top seven to ten pick in most mock drafts. Hield has led Oklahoma to a 19-2 record as of February 3rd, and had one of the greatest games in school history on January 4th, when he had 46 points, 8 three pointers, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, as #2 Oklahoma lost in 3OTs to #1 Kansas. On the season Hield is averaging 4.3 3PM and has had at least 6 3PM in 5 of his last 9 games, including 8 against LSU.
First of all this was an amazing game to go to. Anytime a #1 team goes on the road the crowd is extremely excited and the home team will usually come out with a lot of energy, but the LSU crowd was absolutely insane, chanting all game, and making me constantly wish that more NBA arenas could duplicate that energy. Ben Simmons was introduced last during pregame introductions and the teams were ready to square off in this marquee Saturday afternoon ESPN matchup.
LSU fed off of the home energy and got out to a quick start, leading 7-3 after two minutes of play, and by 13 with five minutes left in the half. Surprisingly, Simmons was only 2-2 in the first half. His teammates were hitting open shots and he allowed them to continue carrying the scoring load, as Oklahoma was struggling to score on its end. Buddy Hield was 1-5 from behind the three-line in the first half, but he was able to help his team get back into the game by forcing steals on defense and attacking the basket. He only attempted two free throws in the game, and LSU fans greeted him politely.
The half ended with a questionable no call by the refs that would have put LSU on the line for two more free throws, leading to some loud jeering towards the officials, but the fans were ecstatic with the overall play of the team. Up 8 at halftime, and in control the entire half, LSU looked to continue its strong play on defense in the second half, and did early on. The team went up by 12 with just under 17 minutes on a reverse dunk by Simmons that had the arena louder than it had been all day.
After an Oklahoma timeout, and another LSU basket to push the lead to 14, Oklahoma began its comeback. Hield hit two 3s in 1 minute to begin a 16-7 run over the next 8 minutes to bring OU to within 4. Simmons had 4 of LSU’s 7 points during the run including his last made basket of the game with 10 minutes left. At that point in the game Simmons was 6-6 from the field, and only took one more shot the rest of the game, a missed shot in the paint with five minutes left.
From the second Simmons missed that shot the game was officially Buddy Hield’s. Although he already had 23 points, his best moments were still ahead of him. From 4:45 left to 1:44 Hield hit three 3s, the first two in a 30 second stretch, and the last two to put Oklahoma up by 1 point each time. He was clearly feeling it and LSU couldn’t do anything to stop him from coming off of screens and getting open off-ball.
LSU was able to tie the game up on a 3 by highly touted freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, but won the game on a jumper from guard Isaiah Cousins, and a last second block at the rim. It was an unfortunate end for the Tigers, considering they led for around 38 of 40 minutes and led by 10 with 10 minutes left, but the Sooners certainly weren’t lucky. Late in the game they forced the ball out of Simmons’ hands, forced him into uncharacteristic turnovers, and got the ball to their best player, Buddy Hield.
View the full play-by-play here
I certainly left the game feeling more confident in Buddy Hield’s likelihood to win player of the year and at this point would bet on him being the unanimous pick. He had 32 points and 8 three pointers in the game, including 7 threes in the second half, helping to bring Oklahoma back from down 14 with 15 minutes to go. While LSU helped him out by losing track of him frequently after offensive rebounds, Hield did a great job running tightly off of off-ball screens to allow him to get the most separation possible. His release was exceptionally quick as well, so even when LSU was able to stay with him, he was able to get off quality shots. He didn’t show off as much ball-handling as you’d hope for a player compared to some dribble-heavy guards, but his three-point stroke was certainly on full display. He also had some nice drives to the basket and was able to avoid contact. Two positive and important mental characteristics stood out as well; toughness and poise. Hield had only 11 points at halftime, and his team was down 8 on the road. He responded by scoring 21 points in the 2nd half, all from 3.
Hield and Oklahoma should be a #1 seed going into the NCAA Tournament, and he’ll be expected to lead thempast the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost last year. Any extra progress has to help his outlook in the upcoming draft, and with how important outside shooting has become in the NBA he’ll be highly coveted despite being a 23 year old senior.
I was disappointed that Simmons only took 7 shots in this game especially with him having played 39 minutes. After talking during the week about being more aggressive and looking to get to the rim more frequently against Oklahoma, Simmons spent much of his time on opposite side of the court, sometimes outside of the paint where he is most dangerous currently. On the season Simmons has seven games with under 10 points, and LSU is 2-5.
Simmons was 2-2 in the first half with both shot attempts coming in the first four minutes, but it’s hard to really ridicule his play, with him playing within the offense and LSU leading by 8 at halftime. The second half he was more aggressive but still didn’t really seem to move comfortably on offense unless he had the ball and the paint was open. He should certainly benefit from the NBA game, which features a larger court and more space and running room for players. His passing abilities were certainly on ability. Because of his size and passing, I saw a lot of Lamar Odom’s game in Simmons. What made his passing especially productive was him being able to lead his teammates to a spot on the court where they would be more open. He was patient in his passing as to allow teammates to get in the best position and gain more separation from defenders.
It will be interesting to see what he can do the rest of the way. LSU projects to be a NIT team but is currently 2nd in the SEC, with a conference record of 7-2. If they can beat #8 Texas A&M at home, either ranked South Carolina or Kentucky at home, and play well in the SEC tournament they should be able to sneak into the tournament. It would be a shame for one of the best prospects and freshmen of the last decade to not get a chance to lead his team in the NCAA Tournament. LSU has 9 games left to make its case for the selection committee. Simmons has almost assuredly cemented his place as the #1 pick so any improvements he may show from now on will only go to add to his college legacy as one of the best freshman in NCAA basketball history.
Ben Simmons High School Mixtape