Ben Simmons’ Debut Season Is Becoming Special

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 30th, 2015

The Ben Simmons bandwagon is filling up quickly. The LSU freshman came into the season hyped as the next big prospect to go one-and-done and first overall in the NBA Draft, joining an illustrious group of NBA stars (and Anthony Bennett) in the process. But his double-take-inducing statistics and the raw athleticism exhibited in the first five games have led many to ask if he can be even more than that.

Ben Simmons May Be Working On One Of The All-Time Great Freshman Seasons (Photo: Getty)

Ben Simmons May Already Be Working on an All-Time Great Freshman Season. (Getty)

Simmons’ season has been so incredible through two weeks that we feel the need to examine where he fits amongst the best freshmen in the modern era of college basketball. If we were to be measured and retrospective, we would take a deep breath and say that he’s only played five games, three of which were against the likes of McNeese State, Kennesaw State and South Alabama. But that reasoned perspective is somewhat antithetical to sports media and the blogosphere in general, so let’s overreact and see how the superstar rookie fares against some of his historical comparisons. We will start with the one-and-done era, which began in 2006.

Keep in mind that Simmons, at the time of this writing, is averaging 16.2 points, 14.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.

Player Simmons is probably better than (with rounded freshman season per-game averages)

Joining the likes of Kyrie Irving and other standouts, Ben Simmons is playing himself into some elite company. (Getty)

Joining the likes of Kyrie Irving and other standouts, Ben Simmons is playing himself into some elite company. (Getty)

  • Anthony Bennett, UNLV16 points, 8 rebounds
  • Nerlens Noel, Kentucky10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocks
  • Greg Oden, Ohio State15.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3 blocks
  • John Wall, Kentucky16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 4 rebounds
  • Demarcus Cousins, Kentucky15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks
  • Kyrie Irving, Duke17.5 points, 4 assists, 3.5 rebounds
  • Derrick Rose, Memphis14.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds
  • Brandon Knight, Kentucky17 points, 4 assists

Players who Simmons may or may not be better than

  • Jared Sullinger, Ohio State17 points, 10 rebounds. Sullinger chose to come back for his sophomore season before back problems derailed his NBA Draft stock, but performances like a 30-point, 19-rebound game against South Carolina during his freshman year carried the nation’s most efficient offense to a #1 seed.
  • Kevin Love, UCLA17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds. In 2008 Kevin Love was the star of the show for a 35-4 UCLA team which had a supporting cast that included both Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison. The freshman led the Pac-10 in offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, free throw rate and offensive rating en route to the Pac-10 POY award in an absolutely loaded conference.
  • Tyler Hansbrough, UNC19 points, 8 rebounds. Hansbrough didn’t quite average a double-double as a freshman, but 19 points per game isn’t easy for a post player to average while in college. His 40-point, 10-rebound performance against Georgia Tech alone earns him a spot here; let’s talk more when Ben Simmons does that against an SEC team.
  • Jabari Parker, Duke19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, 2.5 blocks. We don’t think of Parker as having one of the best freshman seasons ever, probably because Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins stole some of his hype before his Duke team fizzled out in the NCAA Tournament. But that stat line is awfully hard to argue against.

Players who Simmons is almost certainly not better than

  • Anthony Davis14 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.5 blocks. It’s important to remember that Davis was the best defensive player in college basketball by a wide margin. When you combine his defensive prowess (which earned him National Defensive Player of The Year honors) with his nightly double-doubles and a Kentucky National Championship, The Brow’s season will be hard to top.
  • Kevin Durant, Texas26 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks. This might surprise you a bit, but Kevin Durant was really good in college. Really, really good. He scored fewer than 20 points in just five games, but poured in more than 30 points in 11 games.
  • Michael Beasley, Kansas State26 points, 12 rebounds. Beasley, who averaged 30 points and 16.5 rebounds through his first five games, is unimpressed by Ben Simmons’ start to the season. He also had a double-double in 29 of his 33 games. Fairly dominant stuff, no?

Pre-One-and-Done era freshmen whom Ben Simmons is almost certainly not better than

One of the great things about comparing and contrasting is going down memory lane. In this case, who could forget how good Kenny Anderson was back in college? (AP)

One of the great things about comparing and contrasting is going down memory lane. In this case, who could forget how good Kenny Anderson was back in college? (AP)

  • Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse, 200322 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists. While his contemporaries went straight to the NBA Draft, Anthony decided to dominate college basketball for a year and win the Orange’s sole National Championship.
  • Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech, 199020.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8 assists. He tallied 32 points, 18 assists and 12 rebounds against Pitt in his eighth game of the season. Ben Simmons is lame.
  • Shaquille O’Neal, LSU, 1990—14 points, 12 rebounds, 3.5 blocks. Simmons could actually end up having a better stat line than O’Neal as a rookie, but it’s still pretty early. Shaq has earned the benefit of the doubt.
  • Chris Jackson (now Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), LSU, 198930 points, 4 assists. LSU really knows how to lure those talented freshmen, don’t they? How exactly did a 1990 Tigers’ team featuring Jackson and Shaq lose nine games? Anyway, if you throw in Pete Maravich’s first (sophomore) season (in which he averaged 44 points per game), Simmons has a fight on his hands just to be named to the All-LSU Freshman team.

Honorable Mention: Keydren Clark (St. Peter’s), Kevin Martin (Western Carolina), Paul Millsap (Louisiana Tech) and others who dominated in their first year against weaker competition. You were not forgotten.

The Ben Simmons hype train is already in pretty high gear, and we haven’t even reached December yet. We’ll watch the rest of the season to see how things play out, but the conversation of best freshmen ever is one that Simmons is likely to keep relevant all the way into March.

William Ezekowitz (30 Posts)

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