SLAM Top 50: Ben Simmons, No. 50

If you were expecting to see somebody here who has actually played in the NBA, please settle for the dude who made watching Summer League cool.

Ranking Ben Simmons among established players is not easy. It provokes a sort of “my mind’s telling me no, but my body’s telling me yes” conundrum. One must balance high hopes with the booooringgg fact that he’s maybe not as good, overall, right now, as other guys in this tier, such as (in no Top 50-related order) Jae Crowder or Nic Batum or Bradley Beal. Indeed, leaving Simmons off the list in favor of proven players would be fair enough.

But then one considers the case of Karl-Anthony Towns, excluded last year and now worthy of Top-10 consideration. A year ago, it would have been borderline fireable to suggest he was better than Pau Gasol (ranked 34th in ’15), Kevin Love (20), or Dwight Howard (19). But now we know the truth.

In fairness, Towns was an all-time rookie. But Simmons is an all-time prospect, and it’s fair to wonder if he might make a similarly dominant entrance to the NBA. He certainly looks like the truth, anyway:

If one were to take the mathematical average of Ricky Rubio and early ’90s Shaq, the product would be a wicked passer with top-notch vision who moves well despite resembling a lean truck. Sound about right? Here’s what Simmons told SLAM’s Franklyn Calle about his playing style a few months back:

“I think my game, it’s just a lot different… I think I’ve picked up a lot of things out here, which has kind of created my own type of game—I think [like] using my athleticism.


“I think just my IQ is a lot different from most people because I’ve played on different levels… Playing the European style and then playing the American, and then kind of building it into one.”

Like he said, his game is just different, and the Sixers wasted three years of everybody’s time to get a hold of its vast potential. Maybe it will only show in flashes for a bad team this year—it’s easy to imagine a Vine in which Simmons fires a three-quarters court bounce pass that leads to a layup that cuts the Philly deficit to 29. There will be some 1-8 shooting, 6-turnover nights for Simmons as a rook.

But there will be glorious nights, too, with dreamy triple-doubles, and some exciting, unburdened, they-don’t-know-any-better Sixers mojo. Actually, there might be a lot of those nights. So forget that, for now, it’s hard to say with full confidence that Simmons is one of the 50 best players in the L. Picture late October, when the season starts, and No. 25 takes the floor, and we all just know it’s the truth.

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

Follow the entire #SLAMTop50 countdown.