You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think the debate over who should be selected first overall in June’s NBA draft is legitimate.
It may sound sacrilegious to suggest anyone other than Ben Simmons, who we’ve pencilled – scratch that, written in permanent marker – at the top of the draft board for over a year now should be considered No1, but that’s the case.
It’s a two-player race, with Duke’s Brandon Ingram the only threat to dethrone the Australian. But it’s a real threat, even if the top pick ends up being predictable.
To make the argument for Ingram over Simmons, it would be easy to point to LSU’s disastrous season and their absence from the NCAA Tournament as proof.
While it’s certainly odd and definitely not encouraging to see someone labelled as the top prospect fail to bring his school into a 68-team tournament, that situation had more to do with the programme as a collective rather than one player.
More concerning and really the biggest obstacle facing Simmons’ future in the NBA is his utter lack of shooting.
Simmons attempted all of three 3-pointers this season. Three. Even for someone standing 6-foot-10, you better be a banger or a real low-post presence on offence if you’re not going to be a threat from the perimeter.
That’s just the reality we live in now, with the modern NBA game placing more and more importance on 3-point shooting.
Ingram doesn’t have that problem. In fact, he has shooting in spades as he converted 41.5 per cent of his triples in his freshman campaign, despite standing only an inch shorter than Simmons at 6-foot-9 and boasting a ridiculous 7-foot-3 wingspan.
It’s a stretch to say, but if you squint hard enough when you watch Ingram play, he kind of looks like Kevin Durant. Even if he’s not (likely), his style is conducive for success at the next level and his scoring potential is sky high.
Simmons, meanwhile, has literally all the other tools to be a special player. There’s reason why he’s been compared to LeBron James and Magic Johnson, even if those comparisons are very ambitious. But the difference between him being good and great will be if he can figure out his shooting, which many young players develop.
If I was a GM and had the first pick, I would take Simmons. His potential is just too high.
That said, I don’t think it’s clear-cut or believe Simmons will be hands down the best player from this class when we look back.
No one knows and that’s why the NBA draft is such a crapshoot.
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When the World T20 was announced as being held in India there was little doubt that slow bowlers and those batsmen able to adapt quickly to the conditions would lead the charge to the title.
It was expected that the kings of the sub-continent – the hosts, Sri Lanka and Pakistan – would all stamp their authority on proceedings in an environment so familiar to their cricketers.
But from the very off at this tournament there has been one team which has planned for and played conditions better than any other – and that is New Zealand.
Their impressive opening run of three wins out of three has been reliant on an attention to detail and ruthless application of the type of skills capable of redefining T20I cricket.
In those victories over India, Australia and Pakistan, the Kiwis have turned the screw with the ball using a mixture of steadfast control and a constant wicket-taking menace.
Their exploits in the field have been their saving grace so far but now they have combined that with a dominant batting display against Pakistan, it should serve as a warning to the rest of the teams in the competition.
Their spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi have been incredible finds, both performing with maturity beyond their tender years and offering hope in the country’s search for a successor to Daniel Vettori.
Alongside them, Nathan McCullum starred with the ball against India but has not featured since as the team has adapted to the ever changing surrounds of a vast cricketing landscape that demands and rewards variety.
Mitchell McGlenaghan and Corey Anderson also chipped in against Australia and Grant Elliott’s medium pacers were just what were needed on a Mohali pitch that offered little to the quicks.
The depth this side boasts is staggering, with Trent Boult and Tim Southee reduced to carrying the drinks.
But the real key to their success is the democracy they embrace – the open dialogue and constant discussions within the camp.
All branches of Team New Zealand are moving together in unison to deliver ultimate success. Coach Mike Hesson must take a great deal of credit for this Black Cap masterclass, with he and his coaching team working tirelessly at preparing for both opposition and circumstance.
It is raising the bar and the likes of England, Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka – who have looked like having nothing beyond a plan A – should be taking note.
Those nations tend to rely on an established first XI, their best players sent out to do the best job they possibly can.
But for New Zealand there is no such thing. There is a team best suited to a specific situation laid out in front of them and an awareness that both will and should change freely, or not at all.
It has made for enthralling, organic cricket as they become more and more chameleonic in their development.
It remains to be seen whether it can last but it is hard to see them being unable to compete against any side in the tournament, at any ground in India.
In this kind of form, with their forensic preparation and a squad so close-knit, brimming with both talent and confidence, New Zealand are changing the game at a rate others are failing to keep up with.
They are one step ahead at every turn and it shows each time they take to the field.
So often the underdog or the nearly men, there has never been a New Zealand side this ready to win an ICC tournament.
Even though they say cricket is a game of great uncertainties, not many would have seen that coming.
India were the favourites going into the first match of the Super 10 stage against New Zealand given their excellent recent record and form at home.
But far from a straightforward victory, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys were pummelled by the Kiwis on a wicket that had been prepared exactly the way the hosts wanted.
The first half of the match in Nagpur went according to plan for India. Martin Guptill went after Ravi Ashwin the very first ball, launching him down the ground for a six, but was out LBW the next delivery.
That set the tone of the innings as the Kiwi batsmen tried to break free but the Indian bowlers, and fielders, found ways to rein them in just at the right time.
Lower-order batsmen Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi tried to push the score towards the 150-run mark but a total of 126 is all they could muster.
It seemed well below par given the strength of India’s batting. But someone forgot to tell the Kiwi spinners about the Indian batting prowess. All they focused on was the Nagpur pitch which had turned into a minefield where the ball was gripping and turning square.
Offie Nathan McCullum, third in the pecking order among spinners in the New Zealand lineup, started things off by scalping Shikhar Dhawan in the first over.
But it was the combination of leftarm spinner Mitchell Santner and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi that pulled the rug from under India’s batting. Some might say that India’s batsmen got out to soft dismissals.
But that would take the credit away from the New Zealand spinners, who simply outperformed their India counterparts. Santner took 4-11 from his four overs while Sodhi ended up with 3-18 and McCullum 2-15.
Ashwin had relatively poor figures of 1-32 and Jadeja 1-26. India hadn’t come across such a disciplined and varied spin attack in recent months and on a responsive wicket, the Kiwis suffocated their batting. Some of the deliveries that Sodhi bowled spun more than a foot and that rattled the batsmen.
Just because you grew up facing such bowling, that doesn’t mean you will automatically be good against it. India’s bowlers and fielders did what was asked of them. But as Dhoni admitted after the match, the batsmen failed to assess the situation.
All they needed was one partnership of 30-odd runs at the top of the order, even if that took 50 odd balls, to calm the dressing room and take the sting out of the Kiwi attack. But it wasn’t to be. What the Kiwis have done is they have given every team in the tournament genuine hope.
The Indians were batting on a pitch that was tailor-made for them but they were soundly beaten. If the heavy favourites can be crushed, then anything is possible.
While one defeat shouldn’t necessarily set the alarm bells ringing, a 47-run defeat in the opening match has set India behind considerably, especially on net run rate, and their famed batting line-up has been embarrassingly exposed.
With India already on the back foot, their clash against Pakistan on Saturday has become a must-win match far beyond the context of their historic rivalry.
Their batsmen will have to quickly forget this debacle and try to bat a bit more sensibly. Because if they suffer stage fright against Pakistan’s bowlers as well, then India can kiss their title hopes goodbye.