NBA rookies are often tagged with labels even before they play an official game. "This guy’s a bust." "That guy’s a steal." But neither of those two labels come with as much pressure as being labeled “The Next ______.”
Remember all those players who were labeled “The Next Michael Jordan”? One at a time, guys like Harold Miner, Jerry Stackhouse, and Vince Carter all carried that heavy burden of expectations with them. A guy like Carter never got to the level of MJ, but he did make out a Hall-of-Fame worthy career for himself. On the flip side, Miner won two Slam Dunk titles and not much else.
That’s the curse of being labeled “The Next ______,” a place the newly minted Number One draft pick of the 2016 NBA Draft finds himself in right now.
Here’s the truth though. Comparing a 19-year-old NBA neophyte to a four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion is borderline insanity. It’s stupid. But that’s the world we live in when it comes to the NBA, about as narrative-driven as any sports league in the world outside of the NFL and the Premier League.
Everyone wants to make a story of Simmons comparing favorably to James because they have a similar built and they possess similar skill sets. As per NBADraft.net, the scouting report on Simmons reads like an all-timer-in-the-making. The kid, apparently, is “an extremely unique talent, combining power forward size and strength, with point guard vision and passing skills... Has the size, physical gifts and skill to defend and play all five positions at the next level, ideal for the emphasis on 'position-less basketball'... Highly unselfish, team oriented player... A supreme competitor and a proven winner, having captured three national high school championships (in three seasons).”
It’s a glowing testament, no doubt, but does it paint the whole picture of Simmons’ abilities? More importantly, is it even fair, given the scouting report, to immediately say that his closest comp is LeBron, the same guy that just pulled off an all-time great performance at the NBA Finals?
That’s an incredibly heavy burden to bear, especially now that the NBA has become a 24-hour news cycle where every move he makes, in and out of the court, will be magnified and picked apart by talking heads and prisoner-of-the-moment fans alike.
So here’s a novel idea, one that I’m sure smart NBA fans will appreciate. Let’s cool down on the Ben Simmons hype train. How about we let him establish his career path on his own and not have him try to live up to the enormous expectations of being labeled “The Next LeBron James.”
History has painted a predominantly sour picture of those who have been given insurmountable expectations to be great. If anything, it’s a mental and psychological trap. Nobody wants Simmons to get lured into thinking he’s as good as everyone makes him out to be because as talented as he is, he still has plenty of work to do to even live up to being the Number One pick, let alone the so-called label of “Next In Line.”
Who knows, he may one day live up to the hype, maybe even exceed it. Or he may flame out like so many other heir apparents have in the past. But it’s not on us to dictate those terms to him. He has to do it on his own. All we can do, or rather, all we should to do is sit back and see where he takes his career now that he’s in the NBA.
That's not too much to ask, is it?