Some 31 years ago, a five-part story arc which kicked off the second season of the G.I. Joe animated series introduced a character known as Serpentor.
During the mini-series, Cobra (the bad guys) went around the globe collecting DNA samples from a number of history's most famous leaders - including Napoleon, Julius Caesar, and Atilla the Hun - in order to create the world's greatest tactician.
As with most cartoons in the '80s, the introduction of Serpentor was a thinly-veiled attempt to sell more toys. But much like Cobra's homegrown leader, it almost seems as if Philadelphia 76ers' guard/forward Ben Simmons was crafted in a laboratory.
If we were to go the 23andMe route on Simmons' basketball DNA, we'd probably find some amalgamation of LeBron James and Jason Kidd and Lamar Odom and Rajon Rondo. Simply put, none of us - not you, not me, not James Watson nor Francis Crick - has ever seen anyone like Ben Simmons in the NBA before.
A 6-10, 240-pound point guard with plus athleticism, a high basketball IQ, elite vision, and all of the tools to be a dominant defensive player. A left-handed wunderkind who is (perhaps) unselfish to a fault. And when Simmons does finish a possession, he almost always uses his non-dominant hand (he might actually be right-hand dominant when it comes to basketball, but that's another argument for another day).
When Simmons grabs a rebound and takes off down the floor, flashbulbs flicker in anticipation of what's to come. His speed in the open court belies his size: With a full head of steam, Simmons is faster with the ball in his hands than players several inches shorter.
Whether he's on the fastbreak or initiating the offense in the half-court, he's a walking, breathing, matchup nightmare for 29 NBA teams. He's been a boon for a team that has had difficulty scoring in recent years: The 76ers have a 102.7 Offensive Rating when Simmons is on the court as opposed to a 90.5 rating when he's on the bench.
Last week on SiriusXM NBA Radio, former NBA sharpshooter Tim Legler remarked that Simmons' game is analogous to that of a couple of all-time greats:
"I can only think of a couple guys that have ever played that have his [Ben Simmons] sort of size with the combination of speed, handle and vision to go along with it. Magic [Johnson] and LeBron [James] are the only two guys that come to mind that have that kind of speed up the floor, handle, ability to get where they want with the handle in either direction, and then the vision and ability to put the ball on a rope to people. He's a special talent, man, he’s a weapon."
Simmons' numbers tell one story (17.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.7 SPG), but it's important to note that his defensive effort has been better than advertised. He racked up counting stats while at LSU - Simmons averaged two steals and nearly one block per game while in Baton Rouge - but he rarely appeared to be fully engaged on both ends of the floor.
Through his first six NBA games, Simmons has shown good balance when he squares up on defense, doesn't often overcommit on rotations, and his active hands in the passing lanes have resulted in a number of deflections.
Some guys chase double-doubles... so far, Simmons has been able to get them in the standard flow of the game. We're at the point now (less than two weeks in!) where we think the official scorer made a mistake when Simmons doesn't end a game with double-digit rebounds or assists.
Simmons' 21/12/10 performance against the Detroit Pistons last week was the first time that any player had recorded a triple-double in their first four games in the past 50 years (shoutout to the immortal Art "Hambone" Williams). And Saturday's line (23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals) might have been his most complete performance as a pro.
Simmons and Oscar Robertson are the only two players in NBA history to begin their careers with six consecutive games of 10 points, five rebounds and five assists. But as dominant as the former has been, there's a particular sentiment that prevents some from fully committing to a spot on the bandwagon.
"If Ben Simmons only had a jump shot..."
There are those who don't think Simmons needs a mid-range game to be an elite level performer, and exhibit A in their opening statement is one Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis also happens to be a physical marvel with several years of NBA experience under his belt, a Mr. Fantastic wingspan and hands that can palm a beach ball.
Simmons is gifted enough to be a perennial All-Star without a reliable jumper, but adding one to his arsenal would make him damn near unguardable.
“That kid, they are not talking about him enough," said Memphis Grizzlies' head coach David Fizdale after Simmons dazzled in an early October preseason contest. "I think once he gets confidence in the shot, where you really have to close out on him to the three, wow, he is a big-time talent."
Aside from his questionable shooting mechanics (which will improve his less-than-ideal free throw percentage), the only other knock on Simmons at this point is the fact that he might single-handedly increase the unemployment rate in Las Vegas. Because quite frankly, the person who works (worked?) at Bovada who put the over/under on Simmons' triple-doubles this season at 0.5 has no business being in charge of betting lines and prop bets.
Simmons' teammate Joel Embiid dominates the Twitter trending topics because it's hard to ignore a 7-2 behemoth with excellent footwork who can also shoot threes as well as most guards. But Simmons might be the Sixers' most compelling player, and he's becoming increasingly harder to ignore.
"I never walk into a game thinking I'm a rookie," said Simmons during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show last week. "I just go in thinking, you know, I want to win a game and I'm one of the best players on the court at the time."
Welcome to The Ben Simmons Show, ladies and gentlemen. The next 10 to 15 years should be pretty fun to watch.