The LSU men’s basketball struck gold on November 14, 2014. This is the day the high school phenom and No. 1 ranked recruit Ben Simmons singed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Tigers. He was named the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, the second freshman to win the award, joining Julius Randle of Kentucky. He was also named an Associated Press Preseason All-America. He is being heralded as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Magic Johnson has even said that Simmons is the best prospect since LeBron James. That’s quite the sentiment for the Sydney, Australia native. Unfortunately for LSU, this season hasn’t gone as planned with Simmons on the team.
LSU is 13-8 overall and 6-2 in the conference and are coming off a 77-75 loss to the No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. This was a matchup that pitted Simmons against potential National Player of the Year, Buddy Hield, who scorched the nets for 32 points, knocking down eight threes including seven in the second half when Oklahoma trailed by as many as 14. Simmons, while having a decent game of 14 points on 6-7 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists, disappeared down the stretch. He scored his final bucket with about 10 minutes to go in the game and that came off an offensive rebound. It is absolutely inexcusable for Simmons not to be the focal point of the offense down the stretch of a game, especially where LSU could have knocked off the top-ranked team in the country.
The 6’9” forward is having a really good season averaging 19.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He leads all major conferences in rebounding. On December 2, Simmons exploded for 43 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in a 119-108 victory over North Florida. His 43 points were the most by an LSU player since a guy named Shaquille O’Neal scored 43 points. He has 11 games with 20+ points, including his 43-point outburst and a 36 point, 14 rebound game against Vanderbilt in a win. LSU is 2-5 when Simmons has less than 10 shot attempts. That should be a big glaring sign that the offense needs to run through Simmons at all times.
Is Simmons not being aggressive enough, demanding the ball? Some will say that’s the reason. He is listed as a forward, but can be either a point-forward or a point-center or even just the point guard. He has dynamic ball handling, court vision and passing skills and is comfortable bringing the ball up the court. In fact, he prefers to be the one running the offense. The reason he won’t go to head coach Johnny Jones is that he is being selfless and letting 6’6” point guard Tim Quarterman to continue to run the offense. While that shows the class of Simmons, he should be getting the ball more down the stretch of crucial games. He has the ability to take over games in an assortment of different ways. He can take his defenders to the basket with ease. He can play in the post, where he often times draws a mismatch. He can set up the offense where he can place his shooters where he wants them before firing a perfect pass right into the wheel house of said shooters for a wide open shot.
Should Johnny Jones be drawing up more plays for Simmons down the stretch? Absolutely. During the end of the game against Oklahoma, the ESPN commenting duo of Dick Vitale and Brent Musburger kept saying that LSU needed to run the offense through Simmons. Jones said after the game that the Sooners were doing a good job of denying the ball inside, but Simmons was where he was supposed to be. Jones also said they have to do a better job of getting the ball to him. Instead of Jones drawing up plays for Simmons in the post, have him either bring the ball up or quickly get it once the ball crosses half court. Here he is in a position to take over games and lead his team to victories. He was able to get the ball with a chance to tie the game against Oklahoma, but was blocked at the rim to end the game. LSU might not have let a 14-point lead slip away if Simmons was featured in the offense more down the stretch.
No matter which way you look at it, whether Simmons needs to be more aggressive and demand the ball more or Jones needs to draw up more plays and let Simmons be the playmaker that he is, the LSU offense needs to run through the potential first overall pick of the NBA draft.