NBA draft: Why LSU’s Ben Simmons is poised to become the top pick _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) on the court before tipoff against Missouri, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, at LSU's PMAC in Baton Rouge, La.

When the NBA draft begins Thursday night, the long wait for LSU All-America forward Ben Simmons will be over in a matter of minutes.

On the other hand, the wait will be just beginning for guard Tim Quarterman, the second LSU underclassman to declare for the draft shortly after the Tigers’ disappointing season ended three months ago.

One way or the other, Simmons, who was heralded as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft before he even signed with LSU in November 2014, will come off the board very quickly — going to the Philadelphia 76ers, who have the first choice, or, at worst, second to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Quarterman, on the other hand, will likely still be around after all 60 picks in the two-round draft, although one NBA scout said Friday it wouldn’t surprise him if Quarterman, a junior, catches the eye of some team late.

But there shouldn’t be any drama for Simmons, despite some concerns over his ability to shoot the midrange jumper — simply because of the overall package.

The slick-passing 6-foot-10 Australian met this week with 76ers officials, who, armed with three of the first 26 picks, are trying to rebuild a team that went 10-72 last season and compiled a three-year record of 47-199.

As a result, many believe the Sixers can’t afford to pass on Simmons in favor of Duke’s Brandon Ingram, a 6-9 small forward, who, like Simmons, played just one collegiate season.

“It’s hard to put myself in another team’s shoes, but I think Ben Simmons will be the No. 1 pick,” one NBA scout said. “The combination of size, athleticism and passing ability, obviously at his young age, will be too much to pass up.

“Obviously, there are concerns with the shooting,” the scout said. “Philadelphia lacks shooting, so some people might think they’ll look in another direction. But I think they have several other assets where they could address the need for shooting without bypassing a talent such as Ben.”

That might mean a trade of perhaps one of their two big men — Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor — who have been mentioned as being available.

“I believe it would be short-sided to try and fit the No. 1 pick around their current pieces,” the scout said. “If they take Ben Simmons, then they could try to re-adjust some of their other pieces to fit around him.

“I think he’d be the most talented player on their roster from Day 1. So it doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, to try and work their current pieces around what they’re adding in him.”

Last month, ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said the once-huge gap between Simmons and Ingram wasn’t as big as it once was.

Yet Fraschilla liked what he saw in Simmons, who led LSU in averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.

“Ben Simmons is as good a passer as you will ever see from a 6-10 guy,” Fraschilla said. “I’m old enough to go back to Magic (Johnson), and the kid is gifted. He’s as good a passer as there is, and he’ll automatically make your team faster because of his ability to rebound and not outlet it, but push the ball up the court.

“There are some analytics that blow you away. ... He’s a rebounder, he’s a great passer, he’s a tremendous athlete. The shooting will scare some teams, but the way the NBA is right now, a guy that makes your team faster from the power forward spot is unheard of, really.”

Quarterman’s future isn’t so clear-cut.

The 6-6 point guard is hoping to capitalize on a sensational sophomore season in which he improved his scoring average nine points from the previous year to 11.5 per game and averaged 5.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Touted by NBADraft.net as a first-round pick after last year’s draft, Quarterman doesn’t appear on most mock drafts after his statistics dropped off slightly last season, when he averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

“Quarterman is in the mix, which a lot of guys are, kind of being in that late-second-round to undrafted range,” the NBA scout said. “That doesn’t mean he will be drafted, but as far as the appeal I think he definitely has some strengths.

“His size for his position, absolutely, is a plus and he has a pretty solid shooting stroke, although I don’t know he’s that pure point guard teams might be targeting. But there’s some appeal where he can do a little bit of both — playing on and off the ball, and (he has) the ability to make shots.”

The scout said Quarterman, whom Fraschilla said should have returned to school for his senior season, could also help a team on the defensive end with his length.

“He definitely has some tools and some potential, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he got drafted in that late second-round range,” the scout said.

“But on the other hand, if June 23 comes and goes and his name isn’t called, I wouldn’t be surprised, either. There are so many guys in that range than there are picks, so inevitably someone is going to be left out.”