By Tyler Berry
“He had a terrible coach.” “He had no help on the court.” “He was never going to get to March Madness with LSU.” “None of these things are his fault.”
Analyst after analyst uses these arguments for why Ben Simmons’ bizarre, not-actually-amazing, one-and-done college season should not, for a second, affect his #1 overall draft spot. And yet, no analyst is diving into the one obvious factor that played into all of those other factors: Ben Simmons chose to play basketball for LSU.
Sure, you can say that his family influenced his decision. His godfather, David Patrick is the associate head coach for the team, after all. However, at the end of the day, Simmons was quoted as saying that LSU was where he felt most comfortable.
He certainly looked it early on in the season, highlighted by a 43 point performance. Astonishing but let’s not forget that this dominant performance was against North Florida. Not exactly a top 25 contender. He continued with a string of good to great performances right up until his first meeting with Texas A&M, a 10 point dud where he was completely shut down in the second half.
After that, I truly do believe his confidence was shot. Sure, he still put up numbers against the fellow mediocre SEC teams. But in his few games after that, a tough loss to Buddy Hield and Oklahoma and a solid team win against in the second matchup with A&M, Simmons really shied away from the late game action. In that Oklahoma game, where LSU led for the majority of the game, once Buddy took over in the final 5 minutes, I’m not sure Simmons ever touched the ball. He drifted in and out of the paint, never called for the ball, and the coach stopped calling his number.
And let’s not forget about his from-bad-to-worse free throw shooting. With the exception of a couple of miscues before that first A&M game, he was about a 72-73 percent shooter, using my very quick math. After that A&M game, he had performances where he went 4-9, 10-19, 11-19, 3-7, and 2-7 from the line in that horrendous conference tourney loss to, you guessed it, A&M.
Let’s finish the recap portion on that note: the SEC tournament game against A&M. In what would turn out to be Ben’s final game, his team mustered up a 38-point showing and basically looked like a D III team playing against the Golden State Warriors. Nothing was working for them, least of all Simmons. He shot 4-11 from the field. Frankly, the alarming part of that isn’t the 30-something field goal percentage, it’s the fact that he took only 11 shots with his team’s back against the wall. Those are the games where you’d expect your top player, a soon-to-be lottery pick, to step up and try anything to get your team back into it. Instead, he bowed out and, a week later, dropped out of school.
Dropped out. That’s a funny statement. He was never really “in.” He played basketball and that’s about it. He even lost the ability to be considered for the John R. Wooden Award because of his poor academic performance. There are just some red flags and I don’t know if enough people are seeing them.
I guess, at the end of the day, the most important question to ask is: Will he be a top 20 player by his second year in the NBA? Probably. However, I think that a second question is equally as important to ask. Could he be a bust? It’s not probable, but it is possible and I don’t think that the possibility is being discussed enough.
"But Tyler, he averaged a double-double." (On a bad team in a mediocre conference)
Alright, alright. Answer me this and then you won’t have to read another word about it from me. If we’re saying that his struggles down the stretch of a 33 game season were only the result of a lackluster coach and mediocre supporting cast, who’s to say that the same won’t happen when he’s drafted by the 76ers or Lakers? Because he’s not dropping past number 2 and the two worst teams in the league are complete and absolute train wrecks. His issues from his brief LSU playing days have the potential to continue in at least years 1-4 of his NBA career. The difference will be that, when you’re playing pro, there’s no where to run when times get tough…except for Europe.