Shaq. CJ. Rudy. Pettit. And Pistol Pete. Where does Ben stand?
By MARTY MULE’
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Ben Simmons, in his quiet sort of way, had quite a game last month in Tuscaloosa, with 23 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, when he led LSU to its first win in Coleman Coliseum since 2004.
The game with Alabama (and those since) was a reflection of what we’ve been seeing the last few weeks: something special.
How special is the question. Could Simmons, in the one season he’s expected to play at LSU, leave an imprint deep enough to be considered one of the all-time great Tigers?
This would be a tough lineup for anyone to break into: Shaquille O’Neal at center; Bob Pettit at power forward; Rudy Macklin at small forward; Pete Maravich and Chris Jackson at guard.
That is the crème’ de la crème’ of LSU basketball, most would agree. Does Simmons belong in that company?
Simmons was billed as the best newcomer to the game when recruiting started last year and is now being projected as the first player taken in the NBA Draft, despite having played just a half season of college basketball. Some say he is the next LeBron James with skills that stretch the perimeters of the sport.
Others, noting a lack of an outside shot, and, sometimes what seems to be lack of intensity, say privately he and his game would benefit greatly from another year in school.
But at this moment, does Simmons seem as if he belongs in such select LSU company, and if he does, where? If the rest of his freshman season goes the way the first half went, should a banner eventually hang from the rafters along with Shaq’s, Pettit’s and Pistol Pete’s, or be fitting?
Unlike any of the others, Simmons is a unique combination of physique and agility. At 6-foot-10, he’s big enough to play on the inside, and has enough finesse and skills to play effectively in a backcourt capacity. He’s a hybrid that can be at home anywhere on the court. His statistics reflect that, leading the SEC in double-doubles by a wide-margin.
Keep that up, and, yeah, potentially he has a chance to be on the Mount Rushmore of LSU Basketball – which means, considering the quality of player already up there, among the best ever.
“The word is ‘potential,’” said one close observer who asked not to be identified. “The kid has it all, but it hasn’t all quite come together yet. It will, but he still needs a little time.”
Bud Johnson, the assistant LSU sports information director during the Maravich era, said it took about 30 seconds of watching Pistol Pete on the court to realize this was an extraordinary talent. “Ben Simmons is a little more subtle,” Johnson said. “He’s very talented, but it’s hard to say at this point where he would fit with some of the guys you’re talking about.”
It’s impossible to fully equate one era from another, but who would Simmons edge out of an all-time LSU lineup?
Shaquille O’Neal: Twice the SEC Player of the Year and once the national POY, Shaq was the first player to lead the league in scoring (27.6 ppg), field goal percentage (.628), rebounding (411), and blocked shots (140). Hard to top that.
Bob Pettit: Three-time All-SEC and two-time All-American, Pettit was the driving force to two SEC championships and the first SEC school outside of Kentucky to make a Final Four (1953). In each of his three varsity seasons Pettit led the league in scoring, and as a senior averaged 31.4 points and 17.3 rebounds. In an 11-year pro career, Pettit was a 10-time first team All-Star.
Rudy Macklin: The spur to Coach Dale Brown’s 1981 Final Four team, when he was the SEC Player of the Year, Macklin holds a unique position in LSU annals as the Tigers’ all-time leading rebounder (1,276, a 10.4 career average), ahead of O’Neal, and the second leading all-time scorer (2,080 points, 16.9 average) behind only Maravich.
Pete Maravich: The ultimate basketball Tiger, Pistol Pete scored a major college record 3,667 points (a 44.2 average) in his three unanimous All-American seasons at LSU – all this in the era before the 3-point shot or even a shot clock. And yet, it wasn’t his scoring that set Maravich apart, but rather his ball-handling.
Chris Jackson: Today known as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Jackson was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and a two-time first team All-American in his two seasons at LSU. Probably a better pure shooter than Maravich, Jackson was the National Player of the Year in 1988-89 when he scored a freshman record 965 points and averaged 30.2 points.
When comparisons are being made, the closest correlation that can be made with Simmons at this point would be John Williams, who played at LSU between 1984 and 1986. Williams could play every one of the five positions and was a key component in the Tigers’ 1986 Final Four team.
But Williams is not regarded as one of LSU’s five-best players historically.
That all-time LSU lineup is just pretty hard to crack.