Shaq ramps up hype machine, says Ben Simmons is “a LeBron-type player”

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It is wildly unfair to compare a 20-year-old who has never set foot on an NBA court to a man who will go down as one of the best and most gifted players the game has ever seen. It puts a burden of expectations on a young player that should not be his to cross bear.

It happened plenty before the draft, the Ben Simmons to LeBron James comparisons. Then fellow rookie Denzel Valentine said the same thing at Summer League.

Now Shaquille has added to that, speaking Hall of Fame weekend, as reported by Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“He’s a LeBron-type player,” O’Neal said. “What I mean by that, LeBron does a nice job of making everybody else around him better — passing the ball, doing the small things — and Ben is that type of player.”

He is — potentially.

But when you bring in LeBron to the conversation is implies more than just passing and doing the little things, it hints at a ridiculous level of skill and accomplishment. LeBron is a three-time NBA champion, a four-time league MVP, and for years has been the best player walking the face of the earth.

Simmons may someday evolve into a great player, one where we start discussing his legacy and place in the pantheon long before his career arc is even on its way down — as we have done with LeBron more than any other player — but when you bring up LeBron you lay out a ridiculous level of expectations. All before Simmons even had his first training camp.

Like LeBron — and Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and the other recent batch of great players entering the league — Simmons has a boatload of talent but he also has a long, long way to go to realize it.

I watched him closely at Summer League, and his court vision and passing skills are the kind of thing you can’t teach. He finds the open man, and because he does guys play hard next to him, something you see with LeBron, Ricky Rubio, Chris Paul and a handful of other great passers. Sixers fans are going to love watching Simmons play.

But he’s also got a long way to go to fulfill his potential.

Through six Summer League games in Utah and Las Vegas, he is shooting 36 percent from the floor (and he attempted just one three in six games, missing it). He’s got some moves, but he doesn’t have counters to his go-to moves yet, which is going to make it hard for him when the longer and more athletic defenders he will face hone in on him. He has to physically get stronger. He has potential on defense, but he has a lot of learning to do on that and as well.

Patience is the word of the day with Simmons. The tools are there, but will he learn to use them?

Maybe he has the mentality, the drive, the work ethic to live up to all of that potential. For his and the Sixers sake I hope he does. But even in a “he makes teammates better” way, this comparison is just raw. Let Simmons become the first Ben Simmons, and we’ll see how good he can be.