Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram or the field? SI’s NBA experts give their opinions on who should be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
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With March Madness in full swing and the 2016 NBA draft rapidly approaching, SI.com paneled a group of its NBA and college basketball writers to ask a pressing question: Who should be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft?
While Brandon Ingram is still stating his case with Duke in the Sweet 16, you'll see below that the jury may have already come to a verdict on that question.
For more NBA draft analysis from March Madness, check out SI.com's roundtable on sleepers and prospects to watch.
Ben Golliver: Ben Simmons, LSU
The first time I saw Simmons play live, in December 2014, I thought he had enough talent and upside to be in the conversation for the 2015 No. 1 pick (if he were eligible). Since then, I fully agree with the critics who concluded he wasted a year of his life with an underwhelming freshman year at LSU. There will be repercussions for that: Simmons is probably underestimating how steep his learning curve will be as he adjusts to the pro game, and he’ll need to respond more effectively to adversity and demonstrate better leadership skills at the next level.
But bypassing pure talent at the very top of the draft, without major red flags, is risky business. I still don't see those red flags. Yes, the knee-jerk reaction to Stephen Curry’s brilliance is to label all non-shooters with a scarlet letter. Remember, though, that LeBron James, John Wall and Russell Westbrook are all weak-shooting lead ball-handlers who are doing just fine in “Today’s NBA.” Yes, whichever team selects Simmons will need to give him the ball from day one and surround him with multiple wing shooters, moves that could require displacing current players or investing other assets to build a functional offense around him. To me, his playmaking ability and natural command presence serve as worthwhile justifications for those moves.
Simmons might not be the second coming of James, but his physical gifts are substantial and he boasts once-in-a-decade vision, giving him a sky-high ceiling worthy of the top pick. That’s true, even if he spent the last year looking like a prototypical “bored prodigy” coasting through his mandatory time in college with a permanent case of senioritis.
David Gardner: Ben Simmons, LSU
I know I responded to the first question by saying Ingram could leapfrog Simmons, and I know that Ingram has even taken over the top spot in DraftExpress’s most recent mock. Still, I think Simmons’s combination of Day 1 readiness, court vision and smooth finishes (especially in transition) will compel whatever team is picking first not to pass on him. Again, I won’t be shocked if it’s Ingram, but I will be if it’s someone other than those two prospects.
Andrew Sharp: Ben Simmons, LSU
The answer changes if Ingram has a monster tournament, but otherwise, it’s going to be a very close race until the end of June. In the end, Simmons will probably have too many skills to pass up.
Jeremy Woo: Ben Simmons, LSU
He’s not in the tournament, and that sucks. But from all I’ve gathered so far, the concerns about Simmons exist more in a nitpicky sense. The strengths that caught scouts’ eyes from the start are still very much there. And while there is definite legitimacy to the attitude questions, remember he’s a 19-year-old kid, and that his LSU team was a mess in plenty of ways beyond him. Brandon Ingram’s strengths are unique, but Simmons is the more NBA-ready of the two.
Matt Dollinger: Ben Simmons, LSU
When you've been projected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft ever since you could drive, skeptics and scouts have a lot of time to poke holes in your game. Much like a frontrunner in political race, being in the limelight isn't always a good thing when it comes to media coverage. While Simmons does deserve some scrutiny for the way his season ended and the shortcomings in his game, he doesn't deserve the avalanche of negative attention he's been receiving the last few weeks. Brandon Ingram deserves to be in the conversation, but Simmons is still the obvious pick.
DeAntae Prince: Ben Simmons, LSU
Questions have been raised about Ben Simmons in recent weeks: Can he shoot? Is he too passive? How did he miss the NCAA tournament? I watched him play early in the college season, before the bottom fell out from LSU, and came away with the same worries. But no minor issue I took with Simmons's game was big enough to eclipse the obvious positives. He's a massive human being with ballhandling ability and instincts rarely found in a big man. In this class, even with Duke's Brandon Ingram gaining ground, those concerns can't alter the top of the draft.
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Chris Johnson: Ben Simmons, LSU
It’s unfortunate that we won’t see Simmons in either the NCAAs or the NIT, but NBA scouts probably don’t need another postseason tournament to determine whether Simmons should be taken first. He’s been projected near or at the top of mocks since before the season began. Simmons’s team wasn’t all that good in 2015-16, but Simmons clearly was one of the best players in college basketball (SI named him a second-team All-America). His poor shooting—only 67% on free throws and three three-point attempts—remains a concern, but Simmons gets the nod over Duke’s Brandon Ingram because of his prodigious playmaking ability.