Two prominent publications listed the Pelicans as losers last week following the outcome of the 2016 NBA Lottery. Despite not dropping down in the draft order, just like the rest of the entrants, Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post looked upon the uneventful announcement as an unfavorable one for New Orleans. Let's take a closer look at their rationale to see if the arguments hold merit.
Tim Bontemps of the Post believes the Pelicans need to add another game changer to it's roster because Anthony Davis is without a proper running mate.
New Orleans Pelicans: After a season full of bad luck with injuries, the Pelicans really could’ve used a leap to the top of the lottery – and with it, the possibility of taking LSU star Simmons with the top pick. They desperately need another young talent to pair with Anthony Davis, given their roster is surprisingly void of players in Davis’s age range.
Instead, New Orleans remained in the sixth spot – which isn’t awful, but also seems unlikely to bear the kind of game-changing player a move into the top three would have.
Ben Golliver took it one step further and declared Davis will remain stuck on one of the least enviable teams in the league.
Loser: Anthony Davis
If any A-list superstar needed a little lottery magic, it was Davis, who suffered through another injury-plagued season in New Orleans. The Pelicans didn’t move up or down on Tuesday and will therefore pick at No. 6, a fine slot but not one that is likely to deliver an immediate franchise-level sidekick for the Davis. Remember, the 23-year-old All-Star is set to enter the first year of a five-year rookie extension next fall, and the pieces surrounding him (Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, etc.) all present more questions than answers.
It’s all a bit of a bummer. Four of the five teams picking above New Orleans (Philly, L.A., Phoenix and Minnesota) are in full youth movement mode and lacking a true All-NBA level talent like Davis, while the fifth team (Boston) is coming off a promising playoff appearance and poised to make real noise this off-season. Compared to those scenarios, Davis looks awfully stuck. As it turns out, it was too much to dream that Simmons, who spent one year at nearby LSU, might help save him.
Both writers are correct in their assessments that the Pelicans need more pieces, preferable youthful at that, but does Ben Simmons represent something head and shoulders above the rest of the 2016 draft class, and more importantly, would have been the runaway answer for the Pelicans?
Well, his raw numbers were incredible: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals. If one places a good deal of value in an eye test or is a believer in a player's ceiling, then yes, Simmons might potentially be the next future superstar. Earlier this year, Magic Johnson compared the LSU freshman to LeBron James.
LSU's Ben Simmons is the best all around player I've seen since LeBron James came out of high school straight to the NBA!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 6, 2016
As I was once dismayed by those eager to anoint the next Michael Jordan, connections to LeBron James can be just as misleading because important facts get glossed over to fulfill narratives. To start, Simmons and James are very different athletic specimens. LeBron is a high-flyer whose strength and speed are as impressive as his leaping ability; conversely, Simmons' game displays no where near the same amount of explosiveness. Although he's another guard in a power forward's body, I see more similarities to younger versions of Boris Diaw or Lamar Odom.
Next, Simmons hybrid problem of being a poor perimeter shooter/not wanting to hoist long attempts is a major red flag. He attempted a grand total of 3 three-pointers out of 386 field goal attempts, passing on countless wide-open looks, while 54.4% of his shot attempts came at the rim.
He explained the discrepancy rather maturely, "I mean I don't feel like anyone can stop me from going inside."
There's plenty of truth in that statement because Simmons often represented a mismatch defensively, yet can't you recall the numerous times he'd force a shot closer to the rim than settle for the open look? Perhaps the following startling statistic unearthed by Neil Greenberg, also of the Washington Post, carried a lot of weight behind the scenes.
Per Synergy Sports, he scored 0.64 points per possession on his jump shots, ranking him 6,446 out of 6,797 players with at least 40 jump-shot possessions.
Simmon's jumper is flawed and likely years of development lie ahead, but it would be foolish to not acknowledge some improvements will be made -- his jump shot isn't completely broken. If Michael Kidd Gilchrist can undergo a complete transformation, Simmons certainly has a chance of making significant inroads with his less funky shot mechanics. The million dollar question, though, is what will be the end result?
And hence, we arrive at the biggest source of my consternation about Simmons -- his projectability. (I've already mentioned I'm not a fan of his fit.) He was a 19-year old kid on a bad LSU Tiger team who preferred to pass rather than shoot. At this point in time, there exist mixed reports about his work ethic, demeanor and other intangibles.
Simmons seems to have more questions than a Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield, and the advanced statistics further muddle the waters. For example, his bloated TS% was buoyed by recording a 75.2 FG% at the rim and a high volume number of free throw attempts. Make no mistake, the increased athleticism of his soon-to-be competition is going to hinder that production.
Also, he doesn't easily project to be the next superstar a la Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. For instance, Stephen Shea's latest College Prospect Ratings (CPR) model listed him as the second best player from the 2016 class.
Simmon's 8.8 is a very good score, but it's a far cry from Durant's (38.6) or Davis' (24.1). Stephen Curry (10.6), Tim Duncan (12.7), DeMarcus Cousins (10.9) and Carmelo Anthony (14.9) are just some of the other names that finished notably higher.
Of course Shea's model is no where near perfect, and he'll be the first one to explain the notion since it fails to account for a number of important parameters. (Btw, I urge you to read all of his posts regarding CPR.) His model wasn't all that enamored with Damian Lillard (4.8) and was probably not high enough on Karl-Anthony Towns (7.6). Anthony Bennett (7.6) was projected to be a top-3 pick in 2013.
So to wrap it up, here's my point: all teams that finish in the lowest tier of the standings need help and these teams should always seek vastly superior superstar potential, but we are not certain Ben Simmons fits that mold.
Moreover, the Pelicans may be better off in going another direction as the Pelicans already possess a superstar that the Sixers, Lakers and Suns do not. As far as a running mate for Anthony Davis, doesn't a Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn make more sense? Their ages are much more in line with Davis' and neither would force a Pelicans roster upheaval to accommodate Simmons.
Barring some ridiculous circumstances, Ben Simmons will not join the New Orleans Pelicans in late June and that will probably turn out okay. Of all the things that could be selected to portray the organization in a negative light, not winning the NBA Draft Lottery isn't one of them.