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PORTLAND, Ore. – Ben Simmons is 18 years old, and his age is probably the only thing keeping him from playing in the NBA next season, one long-time professional scout believes.
"He can play on any NBA team right now," the NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "He's big and sees the game like a point guard. He can guard shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. That's real talent. He looks 7-footers in the eye. Just skip him and go on to evaluate the next guy."
Simmons is the headliner of Saturday's Hoop Summit, which matches the top international teens against a USA squad with the top high school seniors. Three NBA scouts told Yahoo Sports that Simmons could end up becoming the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft. The LSU-bound forward was ranked as the top player of the 2015 class by Rivals.com and led Montverde Academy (Fla.) to three straight titles in the Dick's Sporting Goods High School Nationals tournament.
Several NBA general managers, including the Cleveland Cavaliers' David Griffin, Chicago Bulls' Gar Forman, Los Angeles Clippers' Dave Wohl, Milwaukee Bucks' John Hammond, Orlando Magic's Rob Hennigan, Portland Trail Blazers' Neil Olshey and Utah Jazz's Dennis Lindsey, were among the NBA personnel watching Simmons practice on Tuesday night at the Blazers' practice facility.
On projections that he could be the top draft pick next year, Simmons said: "I wouldn't mind that. That would be awesome. There is a long way to go. There are guys coming for that spot. If I keep working I can definitely do it."
Simmons is already built like a grown man, standing 6-foot-10 with a svelte 239-pound frame. The Melbourne, Australia, native shoots left-handed, but likes to finish layups and running shots with his right hand. One NBA scout called him "reverse ambidextrous." The 2015 Naismith prep player of the year is unselfish and loves to pass. One NBA scout said that in a triangle offense he could run the point guard position in the NBA. He has a high basketball IQ and shows leadership qualities. His biggest weakness is his jump shot, but there is lots of time for improvement.
"You don't know if he is left handed or right handed," another long-time NBA scout said. "He passes the ball with fire with the right hand. He has size and he knows how to play."
Watching nearby at the World team practice was Simmons' father, Dave, who was an Australian basketball legend with the Melbourne Tigers. The New York City native says his son's game is a combination of "The Big Apple" and "The Land Down Under," which he defines as aggressive but also unselfish.
"I naturally dragged him from gym to gym," Dave Simmons said about the youngest of his six athletic kids. "[Basketball] is definitely in his blood."
Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut and Jazz rookie guard Dante Exum, both Australian, are also impressed by Ben Simmons. Bogut said he first saw Simmons play two years ago at his gym in Australia and immediately noticed something special.
"We kind of knew he'd have a chance to be a first-round pick," Bogut said. "He is a hybrid [small forward/power forward] right now because he just keeps growing. He has the ball skills of a [small forward] and passes like one, but he's playing [power forward] because he's 6-10.
"You could just see the tools that he has. The first time I saw him work out we had all of our pros there so he was kind of in a shell a little bit. But you could see for a 16-year-old with the body that he had and the high basketball IQ, he could play and pass. He got even better this year as he's hit the weight room stronger."
Said Exum: "He definitely has the tools to be successful in the NBA."
Simmons said he has been leaning on Bogut for advice. Bogut said they talk monthly on Twitter.
"He totally looks out for me and makes sure that I keep a level head," Simmons said. "He's a good mentor. He tells me to work hard and make sure you have the right support around you. Don't let anyone tell you to do the wrong things, but just trust the people you've been with."
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