Kentucky has faced their share of incredibly talented scorers this season, doing a fairly decent job of holding the likes of Grayson Allen of Duke and Ole Miss' Stefan Moody (both over 20 point per game scorers.
Tonight, however, the Wildcats face the likes of LSU's Ben Simmons; a kind of rare, special player the game of basketball has not seen in a long time. How will Kentucky contain this young prodigy who's expected to be the top pick in the next NBA draft?
We're not quite sure that they can.
Ben Simmons (20.5 PPG/13.1 RPG/5.4 APG) on pace to be 1st D-I 20/10/5 player (since Ast became off'l in 1983-84) pic.twitter.com/rlbkOAKZe2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2016
Simmons is putting up numbers this season that are hard for me to put up in video games, and I play a lot of video games. Simmons' unparalleled skill set has contributed to his 20.5 point 13.1 rebound and 5.4 assists per game average. Simmons is the most dominant big man the game has seen since Anthony Davis; the Brow was nowhere near as good of a passer or ball handler either.The numbers go deeper when talking about just how good the Australian sensation is.
ESPN uses a statistic called Player Impact Estimate (PIE) to measure the impact a player has on every aspect of the game; similar to how the NBA uses Player Efficiency Rating (PER). To show just how good Simmons has been and how good he is going to be, Simmons has a PIE of 22.1. NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, the only freshman to ever win the Naismith Award, had PIE's of 20.7 and 20.6 when they were in college.
The only other player to have a PIE of 20 was Kevin Love when he was at UCLA. No other current NBA All-Star ever had a PIE over 14 according to ESPN.
Now, how does Kentucky prevent Simmons from owning the game tonight? The matchup will likely be putting Alex Poythress on Simmons at the tip, being the only one who can match his strength and athleticism.
NBC Sports' Rob Dauster did a good film-room piece on how UK can look to slow down Simmons using Alex on him.
For my money, Poythress is probably their best bet when it comes to slowing down Simmons. He’s strong and athletic enough to make him work in the paint and quick enough that Simmons shouldn’t be able to make him look like the chair that tried to guard Yi Jianlian. Other guys are going to get a crack at him — Marcus Lee, Derek Willis — but Poythress is the guy that I want on Simmons as much as possible. The Kentucky coaching staff has said that they’re going to try to use Isaiah Briscoe, and potentially Charles Matthews, on Simmons as well, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea. According to Synergy, 19.5% of Simmons’ half court offense comes via post-ups and 16.6% comes off of offensive rebounds, meaning that more than 36% of what he does in half court sets comes in the paint.
At other times, we may see Skal Labissiere or Marcus Lee on Simmons at times to match his length. Whatever the matchup is, Kentucky has to muscle up on Simmons and limit his rebounding.
Once he gets a defensive rebound, Simmons is immediately on the run down the court and setting up his teammates; he will also kill you on offensive rebounds and put-backs. The less the ball is in his hands, the less damage Simmons can do.
There have been games where Simmons has scored over 30 and 40 points; other games he has not reached double-digit scoring. Kentucky has the size to be able to handle Simmons from owning the glass, at least.
This LSU squad struggles awfully when it comes to chemistry; a big reason why they have lost four games already. They can play through Simmons but a lack of chemistry will lead them to their doom against Kentucky. If other guys like Antonio Blakeney and Tim Quarterman get their buckets against us, so be it.
Kentucky has to force those other guys to beat them; Calipari cannot have his guys let up 30 points 15 rebounds and 7 assists to Simmons and hope to win. Simmons doesn't have a developed jump shot as of yet, so force him to try to man it inside where Lee, Poythress and Skal can meet him at the rim.