Scouting Ben Simmons vs. Ivan Rabb, two of the best college basketball recruits in the country
The No. 1 and No. 5 players in ESPN’s class of 2015 rankings squared off this past weekend. Both showed they’re good enough to live up to the hype.
It’s hard to find a high school basketball game with more talent on the floor than Friday’s matchup between Montverde Academy (FL.) and Bishop O’Dowd from Oakland.
No school in the country is producing better players than Montverde in recent years after sending D’Angelo Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Kasey Hill to college over the last two seasons. This year’s team is no different. Montverde goes 7’2 and 7’0 across the front line with high major talent in Florida State recruit Jean Marc Christ Koumadje and Wake Forest recruit Doral Moore. Florida commit Noah Dickerson, a 6’8 power forward, is the third best player on the team despite being ranked No. 54 overall in the senior class. O’Dowd is probably one of the only high schools in the country with enough size and athleticism to keep a game against Montverde competitive.
For all the D1 talent here, there’s only one reason this game was on ESPN. Montverde’s Ben Simmons, the No. 1 recruit in the country and an LSU commit, was going head-to-head with Ivan Rabb, a 6’11 forward ranked No. 5 his class who is currently weighing offers from Arizona, Cal, Kansas, UCLA and Kentucky.
These are going to be two of the best freshmen in the country next season, and likely two of the top picks in the 2016 NBA Draft. Both showed on Friday that they’re worthy of the substantial hype. Simmons finished with a triple-double (22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) to lead Montverde to a 78-64 win in Florida.
Simmons came to the United States from Australia before his junior season and broke out at Peach Jam this past summer to become the consensus best player in the senior class. He’s been committed to LSU since October of 2013 thanks to a family connection to Tigers assistant David Patrick, who is his godfather. Add him to a mix that also includes Jazz rookie guard Dante Exum and another top high school recruit, Thon Maker, and it’s easier to see why Australian basketball should be in for a new golden age.
At 6’9, 200 pounds, Simmons has developed a reputation as a point-forward. That’s one of the first things that stuck out against Bishop O’Dowd — he seems like a really good decision maker in the open court, he’s unselfish and appears to have a great feel for the game.
Whether Simmons can ultimately play point guard at the next level (or the one after that) will depend on his ability to guard his position. Most point-forwards are still nominal wings. Scottie Pippen always played with Ron Harper or Steve Kerr during the Bulls’ last three-peat and LeBron James always had Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole with him in Miami. Still, Simmons’ mix of guard skills in a 6’9 body is one of the things that makes him so special.
Simmons also seems really fast for someone his size. He has long strides as you might expect and is very willing to push the ball and run the floor.
He’s not an Andrew Wiggins or Aaron Gordon level athlete, but he’s still an explosive player. This backdoor cut shows an intuition for knowing how to take advantage of a defender who’s fallen asleep and a great burst to finish the play above the rim:
Simmons also showed a nice touch around the rim. He changed hands to convert this bucket.
If either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin come back, LSU is going to be tough next year with Simmons running the show. There will be a big need for shooting (one weakness in Simmons’ game to this point), but sophomore Tim Quarterman and junior Josh Gray should help there a bit. If massive freshman center Elbert Robinson also develops, the Tigers are going to have sky-high expectations for what’s likely going to be their only season with Simmons.
Rabb isn’t nearly as polished as Simmons at this point, but he might have even more upside. At 6’11, 210 pounds, Rabb is a pogo stick big man who has been able to get by on his height and athleticism his entire life. That isn’t to say he’s unskilled, though. Far from it. With Montverde sending double and triple teams at Rabb the entire night, he showcased good vision and passing ability out of the post.
Rabb is also the latest in a new lineage of young big men who are already showing a nice touch on their outside jumper at such an early stage of development. Kentucky’s Karl Towns and Texas’ Myles Turner are two freshmen this year proving 7-footers can shoot, too. Rabb and Kentucky recruit Skal Labissiere are going to do the same next year.
Rabb supposedly has range out to the college three-point line, which is a great sign for his overall development. With the way the game is going, a 6’11 guy with a reliable outside jumper to go along with shot blocking ability is invaluable. At the college level, though, the focus is going to be on adding strength and finishing around the rim.
Two things make Rabb so intriguing as a prospect offensively: a) his ability to finish with either hand around the rim, and b) his quickness to get around defenders. Rabb is ambidextrous, and his comfort to go right or left is extremely rare for a player his age. With a first step as fast as his, he’s going go get a lot of clean looks at the basket.
Like many of the top prospects in 2015, Rabb is waiting until the spring to commit. Cal and Arizona both have a good chance being out west. The 247 Crystal Ball currently has Cal at a 52 percent chance to land him and Arizona at a 32 percent chance.
While this year’s juniors look a lot better than this year’s seniors, Simmons and Rabb will be fun to watch on the college level. Both showed why on Friday.