The NBA’s much anticipated draft night has come and gone. The annual event often provides plenty of surprise and debate over the order of the draftees. But what was certainly not a surprise was the Philadelphia 76ers using their number one overall pick to draft LSU’s Ben Simmons. Not only was Simmons often called the best NBA prospect, but Philadelphia allegedly informed him that they were going to take him with the draft’s top selection.
Simmons ascending to the top draft spot was certainly not unexpected. Even prior to the 2015-2016 college basketball season, many identified him as the year’s most promising choice. He’s been described as having point guard skills in a 6′ 10″ in body. Combine this with his speed and leaping ability and it isn’t hard to see why the NBA’s lottery teams were put on notice all year of the things that he was able to do on the court.
What has become apparent about Simmons’ lone year he played in college is how insignificant it was to his development as a player. If anyone in the NBA didn’t know about his superior skills before the start of the college basketball season, they didn’t have to wait long for those skills to be fully displayed. Certainly Simmons did not need the entire college basketball season to prove that he deserved to be the draft’s number one overall pick. Yet the freshman phenome continued to play throughout the rest of the regular season while putting his body at risk for no salary.
What made Simmons’ case somewhat unusual was that he did not play on an elite or even good team during his one and only year in college. LSU’s basketball team was so bad during the 2015-2016 season that they didn’t even make the 64 team NCAA tournament despite Simmons’ greatness. This is an especially unusual occurrence for such a high profile player considering that they usually gravitate toward the country’s best programs. But this inability to get his team to The Big Dance was apparently not enough to deter the 76ers from making him their selection.
As inconsequential as Simmons’ freshman year at LSU seemed to be, what came off looking even more worthless was the academic undertaking that he experienced at the university. Whereas the actual intelligence of the Tigers’ big man cannot be known, he appeared to be mostly disinterested in furthering any kind of education while at the school. Academics were so ignored by Simmons that he was initially benched by his head coach for most of the first half of a game against Tennessee. At the end of the regular season, it was revealed that he was not eligible for the Wooden Award (given each year to the most outstanding men’s and women’s college basketball player) because he did not meet the minimum requirement of having a 2.0 GPA.
One could make the case that Simmons should have applied himself more on the academic end so that his team would not be hurt by his being benched for nearly a half and so he would be at least eligible for college basketball’s top regular season award. But why was someone like Simmons who was so uninterested in furthering his education put into college in the first place when he has a separate skill (playing basketball) that he did so well? The answer to this question comes in the form of the NBA’s age limit that went into effect before their 2006 draft. As a result of this rule, players no longer could jump directly from high school to the NBA since the age limit said all draftees must be 19 years old and be at least one year out of high school.
If any recent NBA Draft selection demonstrated the absurdity of the league’s age limit, it would be Simmons. Here we have someone who barely even needed college basketball to demonstrate his skills, played on an average team and didn’t benefit from the opportunity to further his education in the slightest. But despite his academic struggles and his team’s mediocrity, Simmons still became the draft’s top pick. Now he will finally get paid for the considerable skills that he has for what he does best.
So what is the solution to avoid a situation like Simmons’ in the future? The NBA should remove its age limit and start developing young players in the Developmental League (D-League) if they aren’t yet ready to play professionally. This way, NBA ready high schoolers who have no interest in furthering their education (like Simmons) could focus more on what is most likely to be their career. If this sounds extreme or unworkable, consider that Major League Baseball does virtually the same thing by drafting players of different ages (including out of high school) and placing them into a minor league system. The NBA would be wise, not to mention fair, to allow promising high school stars the same opportunity that MLB provides. Sadly, this is currently not the case.