LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones doesn’t mind seeing 6-foot-10 forward Ben Simmons leading the fast break and unselfishly handing out assists to teammates on a regular basis.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, Jones said.
At the same time, Jones, a former point guard at LSU, wants his star freshman to find a happy medium and shoot the ball when he has the opportunity after the Tigers’ appearance in the Legends Classic.
In two games there, Simmons averaged 8.5 assists and just 10.0 field-goal attempts — numbers Jones would like to balance a little starting when LSU (3-2) goes on the road again for a 6 p.m. Monday matchup with the College of Charleston (3-2).
That may be easier said than done because of the myriad things Simmons can do mentally and physically.
“We knew right away, because of his ball-handling skills and his decision-making, he would be a guy that we would love to have the ball in his hands,” Jones said. “But you can wear him down if it’s in his hands too much, and at times we did that. He was a little worn out in the back-to-back games we played in New York.”
To that end, Jones and Simmons had a talk when the Tigers returned to Baton Rouge.
Simmons twice passed up what could have been a game-winning shot in the final seconds of an 81-80 loss to Marquette, which drew some criticism in the nationally televised game in New York.
As he did shortly after the game, Jones defended Simmons’ decision to get the ball first to Brandon Sampson and then Jalyn Patterson because Marquette wasn’t going to let him drive in for a shot — much like N.C. State’s defenders clogged the paint the next evening.
Jones likened it to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and LeBron James passing on shots to set up teammates.
“Ben does a great job of making really good decisions,” Jones said. “But sometimes people expect too much or don’t appreciate the value of the thought process a young guy like that puts into trying to make the proper plays.
“He’s not one of those guys obsessed with scoring, but he’s obsessed with winning. Creating opportunities for teammates and allowing them to do their job is the beauty of this team. As we continue to grow as a team and guys are doing their jobs, we are going to be really, really good.”
Simmons had a career-high seven assists to go with 21 points and a career-best 20 rebounds in the defeat against Marquette. In an overtime loss to N.C. State, he had a double-double with 10 assists and 14 rebounds but took only six shots.
Simmons said Jones’ message to him was to start taking shots if he’s open “because he knows I can knock it down.”
“I’m going to start doing that,” added Simmons, who’s shooting 53.4 percent. “But if I feel somebody has a better shot, I’m going to give it to them.”
Sampson said he has never played with anyone that unselfish.
“Four points, 14 rebounds and a double-double (with the assists), that’s real unselfish,” Sampson said. “Sometimes, that’s too unselfish.”
Injured guard Keith Hornsby said it was strange watching a man of Simmons’ size leading the break and giving out 10 assists — the first time a Division I player standing 6-10 or taller had 10 assists and no turnovers in a game in more than 20 years.
“The thing is he probably could have had 15, 16 or 17 assists,” Hornsby said. “If he can find a good balance (with his shooting), it’ll help us.”
In the first five games, Simmons has taken 58 shots from the field — 11.6 a game. He has a team-leading 31 assists and only six turnovers, a 5-to-1 ratio any 6-foot point guard would take in a heartbeat.
“Ben just embraces and loves the game,” Jones said. “He understands his talent. His ability to pass is crazy, and he enjoys a great assist more than he does a nice dunk.”
It’s just that a few more shots would be nicer.
Single-game tickets on sale Monday
Tickets for all nine Southeastern Conference home games as well as the Jan. 30 matchup with Oklahoma will go on sale at 8 a.m. Monday at the LSU athletics ticket office and online at LSUtix.net.
LSU will play its home SEC opener Tuesday, Jan. 5, against Kentucky. Tickets remain on sale for all of LSU’s home games, including Wednesday night’s game against North Florida.