Former Bulls center and three-time NBA champion Luc Longley believes 76ers star Ben Simmons has the ability to reach the heights of basketball greats Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Simmons is only 12 games into his NBA career but the 2016 No. 1 draft pick is already being compared to Jordan and James, who share nine league titles and as many MVP awards between them.
After his rookie season was delayed by a serious foot injury last year, Simmons has hit the ground running this term with seven double-doubles and two triple-doubles for the emerging 76ers.
Simmons’ record of two triple-doubles – after nine games – is something Jordan (58 games) and James (118 games) took time to achieve.
Longley, who won three successive NBA rings alongside Jordan in Chicago from 1996 to 1998, feels the sky is the limit for his 21-year-old countryman.
“His skill package is fantastic and his physical tools are fantastic,” the 48-year-old – now working as assistant coach for Australia – told Omnisport.
“One of the things both Michael Jordan and LeBron James have that we’re yet to see in Ben is the ability to stay injury free. No one knows what someone’s resilience is going to be like. That will be important for him.
“Champions like Michael and LeBron learn how to lead men and inspire team-mates. Because he is such a young man, we haven’t seen that from Ben but it’s something that will become apparent as time goes on. All that’s got to be proved. On early evidence, he has all the tools to do that.”
On comparisons with Jordan and James, Longley added: “It’s inevitable. We wouldn’t be saying it if he wasn’t good enough. We aren’t saying it about many players.
“The proof is in the pudding. I’m sure that’s what Ben has his focus on is being that good. He is making a convincing case given he’s only played a handful of games.
“Maybe it’s too early to make those comparisons but these days you can’t manage that in anyway. It’s absolutely impossible. I’m sure Ben himself understands that it’s early for those comparisons and he has lots of runs to put on the board.
“He is going to enjoy that, proving everybody right and some people wrong. That will be the fun part of it I imagine.”
A fractured fifth metatarsal forced Simmons to miss the entire 2016-17 campaign as he and 76ers fans were made to wait for his highly-anticipated NBA debut.
Fast forward 12 months and Simmons is averaging 17.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists in a seamless transition to the NBA, and Longley believes his countryman has benefited from a year on the sidelines.
“He had a year to study it. Sit on the sidelines and learn and watch the game,” Longley said. “In some ways, it’s been great for him. Obviously it was difficult but it’s clearly helped him.
“I don’t think he would’ve been as impactful 12 months ago. It certainly looks like he used the 12 months productively.
“Obviously rookie seasons are always tough in terms of the physical load and the mental load of an 82-game regular-season schedule.
“Hopefully he can keep it up through 82 games because the 76ers will benefit greatly from that. I’ve been enjoying watching him. I think everyone has. It’s a tread. He’s doing marvellously.”
Born in Melbourne, Simmons is also set to play a key role in the future of Australia’s national team.
Australia – who won the FIBA Asia Cup in August – are preparing for the start of their 2019 World Cup Asian qualifiers against Chinese Taipei and Japan this month, and the Boomers are confident of having Simmons available for the championship in two years as well as the 2020 Olympic Games.
“He’s definitely a candidate,” Longley said. “There’s a lot of pressure on that young man. He’s only now played a handful of games.
“When I spoke to him about playing for Australia, he said he really wanted to and he’d love to. He has a lot of work to do between now and then. Finding his feet in the NBA. I know he’s keen.”