Ben Simmons was a projected No. 1 overall draft pick long before it actually happened, and he thoroughly impressed LeBron James as that young talent.
According to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, the then-Miami Heat star worked with Simmons at the LeBron James Skills Academy and gave him the highest praise any basketball player could receive.
“You have an opportunity to be better than me. But you can’t skip steps. You have to do the work.”
At just 17 years old, still preparing for a future at LSU and prior to an NBA season robbed due by injury, Simmons could hardly have expected what would happen next.
But while he recovered from that foot injury last season, Simmons stayed confident because of LeBron’s encouragement, Jenkins said.
The result? Simmons is cruising toward Rookie of the Year honors with the 76ers. He’s racked up 18.7 points on 51.0 percent shooting, contributing averages of 9.5 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.8 blocks through 19 games in Philadelphia.
That kind of elite versatility is special.
Simmons has plenty of improvement to make before the NBA community seriously entertains this discussion, but the comparisons are obvious. Both players excel at attacking the rim and can out-physical defenders yet possess the vision and passing skills of a point guard.
Simmons should enjoy a long career in the NBA, and improved shooting skills with this level of production would cement him as a Philadelphia legend. LeBron wouldn’t be surprised, though; he saw it coming before Simmons was in college.