By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
2016 first overall selection Ben Simmons has the talent to bring a title to an NBA franchise, the question is will the Philadelphia 76ers aid that talent or obstruct it.
The Sixers have used smoke and mirrors, also known as "the Process", to hide the wretchedness of their draft selections, excluding Simmons of course, in previous years. And lost in that fog was the ineffectiveness of Nerlens Noel and the lack of playing time from the oft-injured Joel Embiid. After years of bumbling and inexcusable misses the organization selected what may arguably be their most talented player since Wilt Chamberlain.
Accompanying that talent is an unfathomable amount of obligation, which only an esoteric amount of fans fully comprehend. To quote the great philosopher Uncle Ben “with much power comes much responsibility”. How young Simmons’ career is defined and essentially the city’s basketball future hinges on Philly’s next move.
It is not standard practice for an organization to be held to a higher level of accountability then the players they select. Just as it is not standard practice for a fan base to celebrate incompetent drafting and abysmal player evaluation. But, Philadelphia and its fan base have long been deemed uncommon. Nevertheless, whether the former LSU Tiger becomes a beast who rules the hardwood for years to come or just another failed lefty who never delivered on his ability rest squarely on Philadelphia’s shoulders.
The franchise has an obligation to feed such a prominent basketball aptitude with equally impressive players. This has not been the case in seasons’ past, but needs to become common place if Simmons is ever to deliver on those championship goals.
There is little doubt the Australia native has the ability to be a franchise altering player. From a pure numbers perspective few are in the realm of the forward. The former Tiger put up some staggering individual stats as a freshman, with the emphasis being on the phrase “as a freshman”. In the last 40 years the only No. 1 overall selections to post numbers on par with Simmons (19.2 buckets per and 11.8 boards per) as freshman were UNLV’s Larry Johnson (20.6/11.4), Virginia’s Ralph Sampson (14.9/11.2), LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal (13.9/12.0) and Michigan’s Chris Webber (15.5/10.0).
What makes those comparisons so compelling is none of the aforementioned picks added 4.8 assists a night to their already stout repertoire. Such production is why the question should not focus on Simmons’ talent, but rather if Philadelphia will properly capitalize on just how special a basketball player he is. Furthermore, can a franchise that has so passionately embraced losing suddenly find the right blend of uncommon players to aid the most uncommon of abilities?
When your skill set evokes the name of LeBron James, fair or unfair there is an infinite amount of scrutiny to follow. The truth is any team expectations should be removed from the forward and placed at the doorstep of the Sixers’ front office. It is incumbent upon that group to show they are committed to building a team capable of maximizing such a unique blend of scoring, rebounding and facilitating. There is a necessary purge that needs to commence and winning now should be the front office’s cross to bear, not Simmons’.
It took a trip to Miami for the Cleveland Cavaliers to build a team capable of capitalizing on the Chosen One’s talent. Sadly too many players are held hostage by organizations who have drafted the wish, without fully constructing the plan. This brings us back to the uniqueness of last year’s first overall selection. The onus of unbridled success belongs to General Manager Bryan Colangelo and owner Josh Harris, because this is why you lost all those games.
The city has acquired the requisite ability to now compete therefore delayed player movement and missed opportunities cannot be tolerated. The responsiblilty of winning does not fall on the talent this time, instead it resides with the organization that claimed to be “wasting” for this moment. Failure to do so will have the gravest consequences.
Awaken from the fairy tale ending that is LeBron for a moment, and be cognizant of the cautionary tale that is former 1990 No. 1 pick Derrick Coleman. Before there was Simmons and James there was the 6’10 Coleman. The Detroit native was equipped with a similar blend of individual basketball supremacy from the forward position.
The big man was downright gifted and in some respect a victim of circumstance. As a senior at Syracuse Coleman routinely posted double-doubles in rebounds and points, along with often founding ways to accentuate his passing wizardry. There were the seven assists to go along with his 19 rebounds in a 78 – 76 win at Duke. There was the near triple-double (19/10/9) in a 63 – 61 win in the NCAA tournament, against Virginia for example.
The former Orangeman played in an era when 6’10 players were restricted/required to play in the post and were not afforded the offensive freedom of today’s ballers. Coleman also played for a head coach in Jim Boeheim who preached ball movement and taking what the opposing defense gives you rather than “making a play”. The NBA offered an offensive freedom that the former All-American failed to take advantage of. But be clear Derrick’s all-around gifts were parallel to Simmons, and should also serve as a reminder of just how difficult it is to build around such basketball dexterity.
As a freshman Coleman led Syracuse to a national title loss to the Indiana Hoosiers 74 – 73. The forward grabbed 19 rebounds, but only took seven shots on his way to eight points. That was the first and last time a Coleman led team played for a title. The former New Jersey Net once referred to himself as an underachiever which would be consistent with how many viewed his 14 years in the league (yours truly among them.) The uniqueness that Derrick possessed on the court never even broached a championship level, mainly because the Nets failed to build a championship team around him.
When Cleveland began taking James services for granted, the forward bolted to Miami. Three championships and a return to Cleveland later LeBron is viewed as one of the games greatest ever. Conversely the man known as D.C. was not blessed to play in an era of “freedom” agency and wasted his most productive years on the poorly run Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. At age 31 the forward finally tasted free agency, by that point he was well past his prime.
It is easy to be facile when comparing the three to each other. Simmons does not have the back-to-the-basket game of Coleman, and James was a much better defender early on. While there are stark contrasts to particular facets of their games, it is the blend of all facets that made/make each so arduous to build around. Furthermore, all three share more than a fluid expertise of the game, they also shared the daunting task of walking into the direst of circumstances.
The 76ers’ front office is on the clock, and although history can be abstract regarding player accomplishments, it will be abruptly clear who failed whom in the Simmons era. The success of this franchise begins with the front office accepting the responsibility normally bestowed upon the best player. If the organization can claim the burden and build a team capable of winning, the ability of Simmons will go the way of James and not the waste of Coleman.