Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons has shades of an all-time great.
From his days as a high school basketball recruit all the way up to when he was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben Simmons was always compared to LeBron James. It made sense. How many players in the history of the sport have possessed the same combination of size and athleticism to go along with their with elite court vision? The answer is few, if any.
For this reason, the vast majority of analysts and fans projected that Simmons would play the role of Point-Forward, a relatively new concept in today’s era of positionless basketball. Regardless of what essentially everyone had to say on the matter, one man saw it differently. His name is Brett Brown.
When Brown looked at the young talent he saw Magic Johnson. He saw not a point-forward, but a point-guard that had the talent and basketball I.Q. to buck the trends of the modern NBA. Here’s why he was right:
Magic Johnson is inarguably a top 5-10 basketball player of all-time. This article is by no means saying that Ben Simmons has surpassed him. Rather we will be taking a look into the statistics, both traditional and advanced, that show striking similarities between the two players in each of their first two seasons. These stats are even more frighteningly close when considering the nearly identical usage percentages the two shared in this time. (In order to account for the changes in the pace of the game between the two eras along with the minutes played by both, we will be using Per 100 Possession stats when referring to traditional statistics.)
Starting with the Big Three of basketball stats (points, rebounds, and assists) Ben Simmons has an advantage of more than one in both rebounds and assists. Both numbers are backed up by advanced stats such as his rebound percentage (1.3 percent higher than Magic) and his assist percentage (8.4 percent higher than Magic). These are impressive numbers considering the fact that Magic Johnson is widely regarded as one if not the best passer in NBA history.
For the Ben Simmons is scared/unwilling to shoot crowd, Magic only shot 0.5 three-pointers per 100 possessions (at a 20 percent clip) in his first two seasons. This made him just as irrelevant from beyond the arc as Ben has been to this point in his career. Neither player was hindered as they both shot a hair over 17 times per 100 possessions with Magic averaging just over a point more than his Philly counterpart.
At this point it is fair to mention that Magic developed an adequate three-point shot over the course of his career. However he never became lethal from beyond the arc and never shot more than 0.8 per game until his age 29 season. Just as Simmons has not needed a jump shot to this point, Magic didn’t acquire one until after he had already won all five of his championships. All that being said, the optimism surrounding Ben’s jumper has reached an all-time high following positive reports from the likes of Tobias Harris and GM Elton Brand.
Defensively the two are no match. While Magic had a knack for coming up with steals, Simmons has him beat in blocks, block percentage, and DBPM. While they share a similar size and length, Simmons is simply much more of a disruptive force than the Lakers star due to his elite athleticism and switchability.
Moving to statistics concerning their player value, the two continue to essentially be a wash. Magic boasts a higher total BPM (box plus/minus) and a shade higher of VORP (value over replacement player), but No. 25 has him beat in win shares over the two seasons. To go along with this, the two also share very similar net ratings, which is impressive considering Magic was part of one of the greatest dynasties in league history. These statistics remain relatively similar in the playoffs as well, with Magic gaining more of an edge in the later games.
Ben Simmons is an incredible talent, and we must appreciate what we have seen out of him at such a young age. Not only has he done extraordinarily well in comparison to today’s stars, but he also compares very favorably with perhaps the best point guard of all time. Hopefully he can remain in the same breath of players such as Magic. He certainly is off to a great start.
All stats from Basketball Reference
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