Drafting for "fit" has become a contentious proposition in draft circles across all American sports. Best player available has been propped up as the superior route to take in most, if not all instances, and in the case of the Sixers complete teardown, continuing to shoot for the stars is a defensible strategy.
That disclaimer comes with a catch: I think we have reached a point where those ideas are viewed as dogmatic when they must be considered in harmony.
Despite his team faltering throughout the season (and especially in his uninspiring final game), Ben Simmons has been met with justifiable praise throughout his lone year at LSU. His raw numbers are completely absurd -- 19.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game on 56 percent shooting is practically uncharted territory.
Simmons has carried the burden of comparisons to LeBron James and other do-it-all forces all the way down to silly criticisms. Many of the biggest knocks against him are pseudo-psychology nonsense that talking heads re-purpose for whatever latest, greatest prospect comes down the pipeline. DOES HE HAVE THE CLUTCH GENE? DOES HE WANT IT ENOUGH? It's all quite silly, particularly when many of these questions are symptoms of holes in a young man's game (e.g. Andrew Wiggins' ballhandling).
The curious case of Simmons' shooting, however, is another story. This isn't your typical tale of a young, high-volume player who needs to improve his efficiency, but a heavy-usage, point-forward player who simply does not shoot from the outside. Simmons has taken three shots from deep the entire season. It is nearly beyond comprehension.
Marc Whittington previously presented a compelling case on why Simmons can defy the odds, but I'm not as confident as Marc about Simmons overcoming such a clear liability. In discussing how he can overcome this issue, Marc mentioned off-ball cutting as an avenue Simmons can use to mitigate his weakness. It's far from the totality of Marc's case, but it's a point I want to draw attention to:
There are more ways of creating space than pure shooting. DeRozan and Dwyane Wade are perfect examples of smart players who have leveraged their threats as cutters to ensure that their defenders don't help too much off of them despite being poor shooters.
Given how easily he understands all components of the game with the ball in his hands, there is no reason to doubt his ability to make smart off-ball cuts when his defender is caught out of position or with his head turned.
Demar DeRozan is a jump-off point throughout the piece, and the comparison to Toronto's swingman (and Wade, to a lesser extent) is one I find troubling.
Simmons might hope to become a do-it-all swingman much like DeRozan, but the manner in which they get there is much different. DeRozan is a scorer and attacker first, with his paltry early assist numbers rising over the last six years as his touches increased. He has certainly grown into more of a playmaker, but it is a side effect of usage more than possession of any elite skills. I'm more comfortable putting a player like him in a variety of off-ball situations, letting teammates like Kyle Lowry carry more of the creation load.
Simmons v. Ingram
Simmons v. Ingram
That is not Simmons' M.O. The glimpses of whatever transcendent abilities he may possess are attached to his court vision and ability to create looks for himself and others when in space. You might better fit him as a cog in a machine by leveraging his basketball IQ off the ball, but you want him to be the machine in which you fit the rest of the parts.
Therein lies my problem with Simmons as a consensus No. 1 selection -- for the Sixers and NBA teams in general, I think pivoting around him is a difficult proposition. Fit applies not just within the context of the current roster, but all future permutations. No matter how the Sixers morph and mold over the coming years, Simmons is going to be a tricky player to build around, even if they were to jettison every single one of their highly-talented bigs.
A common cry is, "LeBron couldn't shoot when he was younger!" which is both a silly comparison (good luck replicating LeBron's athleticism or general career arc) and factually incorrect. LeBron had already notched a passable season from deep at age 20, knocking down 35 percent of his 308 attempts from downtown in 04-05; Simmons will be 20 before he even hits the league. This is not to write him off, but to illustrate that there is no similar baseline of hope to draw from.
Team context is incredibly important for all prospects hoping to reach their potential, but Simmons' wonky set of strengths and weaknesses will necessitate a near-perfect union of teammates to maximize his talents. The more you take him out of a playmaker role, you drift further and further from his theoretical ceiling. And yet, if you hand the keys to an offense to a playmaker who teams can simply dare to shoot from the perimeter, you tempt fate.
Brandon Ingram may lack a singular, legacy-defining skill but he is a special talent in his own right, and there is no team he'd walk into tomorrow that couldn't accommodate him.
It's crucial to split fit into micro vs. macro levels; constantly plugging in guys based on present fit can place you right back onto the mediocrity treadmill, stockpiling middling talent for the sake of perfect matches, but adaptability -- or optionality! -- on a long-term scale is a hallmark of most great franchises.
Ingram fits the bill on both levels. He is over a year younger than Simmons, and a souped-up version of the type of player every team wants in 2016.
The NBA's search for players who can defend and shoot threes at elite levels is endless, and the Duke freshman is well on his way on both counts. Ingram is already doing the latter (41.3 percent on 5.4 3PAs per game at Duke) and has the tools (7'3" wingspan) to eventually be a lockdown defender. He has shown flashes as a weakside shot blocker and will likely be able to play some stretch four at the next level, which will turn matchups with slow, bruising front-courts into a chess match.
Players like Simmons garner attention for "making teammates better", a compliment usually withheld from players like Ingram, but the threat Ingram provides builds a platform for everyone surrounding him to succeed. He can be the safety valve for a post-up, a primary ballhandler from the wing or a freakishly long diver in pick-and-rolls. As he ages and gets stronger, there will be nowhere on the court he isn't a threat.
Simmons being a rare talent doesn't mean players like Ingram grow on trees. Teams and media tend to fetishize flexible, productive players in hindsight wondering why they slid in the draft, until the next draft rolls around and they miss the guy sitting right in front of their face.
"Flexibility" has been a key Sixers buzzword the last three years, and Ingram promises the Sixers that in addition to his own aspirations. No matter the shape-shifting the roster goes through, no matter where he lands, I have little doubt Ingram can be successful doing what he does at the next level. I would even go so far as to say I am confident he will be an integral part of a great team at the NBA level. For Simmons, I'm not so sure that's the case.
It sounds bold and noble to throw caution to the wind and select Simmons despite his drawbacks, thinking and hoping you can get him *there*. It's entirely possible that whoever drafts him finds the perfect recipe and this all looks like a mountain of garbage a year or two from now.
This isn't an indictment of Simmons as much as it is an odds play and an endorsement of what Ingram brings to the table. I'll take the guy who can shapeshift rather than the guy who may need the roster shapeshifted around him.