If junior season performance serves as the prime indicator, then the battle for No. 1 may boil down to Ben Simmons and Ivan Rabb. While certainly other top-10 prospects have produced terrific seasons as well, Simmons has emerged as a co-favorite to earn the top spot by the end of spring.
But rankings, schmankings. The truly important going concern is how much this elite forward can help LSU, his early college choice. Elite programs such as Duke, Kansas and Kentucky had become linked to Simmons, but he pledged to the Tigers and resolved any potential suspense early.
Simmons' godfather, David Patrick, is an assistant coach on Johnny Jones' staff and could prove a vital resource as LSU continues its pipeline to burgeoning talent hotbed Australia.
As for Simmons, even a transient stop through Baton Rouge could become a harbinger of far greater things for the program. It's no secret in recruiting that most top prospects evaluate colleges very closely on the basis of their NBA track record, and Simmons could provide a very successful representative in the league.
His physical attributes and style remind of Shane Battier. He has a very sturdy frame and is a good, not great athlete, whose best work occurs facing the bucket. Simmons boasts exquisite ball skills for a 6-8 player and could become a highly versatile stretch forward down the road.
He burst onto the scene at the 2012 Pangos All-American Camp, where he finished No. 6 in scoring at the camp and did so in very efficient fashion. He cemented his growing reputation at Adidas Nations later that summer, placing himself within the top echelon in the Class of 2015.
He returned to Australia that fall but at midseason transferred to Montverde (Fla.) Academy. That experienced exposed him to American high school basketball, but he opted for his home country last summer and thus we didn't get to watch him on the travel circuit.
Thus, the opening of the 2013-14 season offered a long-awaited opportunity to once again observe his talent in person. And through the first three months of the campaign, he has been stellar.
Off the top, one must understand that Kevin Boyle teams do not always facilitate superstar statistics. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist produced very ordinary numbers at times during his junior season at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick (Boyle's former school), but his ability was obvious.
Thus, when you see that Simmons has compiled a statline of 31 points and 13 rebounds on 14-18 from the field, as he did at the City of Palms Classic, it suggests an even better performance than the raw data depicts.
Simmons is a fine southpaw shooter with a smooth stroke and sufficient range to the three-point stripe. He hasn't attempted many threes in our viewings this season, but in the past he has lit it up from deep.
Where he has excelled consistently is using his size to scorer over smaller or slower defenders from the middle areas. He also can score via post-ups and can create for himself off the dribble in certain matchups.
Physically, he's talented enough athletically at 6-8 to dunk on a shotblocker or generally to play at a very fast tempo. He isn't a jaw-dropping leaper and isn't special laterally, but his athleticism scores highly enough to enable him to showcase his skills.
He also boasts an enormous set of hands. He cups rebounds easily in traffic despite not being as physical as I'd prefer, and his chest passes are rockets. He can throw a chest pass off the dribble that's 30 feet on a line, slicing through transition defenders and creating easy scores for his team. He also can take fouls and finish through contact because his hands enable him to maintain control of the ball.
Beyond tangible size/athleticism/skill, Simmons possesses magnificent basketball instincts. He clearly understands how to play within the team concept, whether he's on or off the ball. And because he's such a talented handler and passer on the perimeter, he serves as a pressure release valve for his guards, an offensive attacker and post entry passer.
And as situations arise, he ducks into the post, receives a pass and quickly launches into a turnaround jump shot or spinning move toward the rim. He's a complete player who may not possess any single dominant quality, but the entire package will make him formidable for the college level and beyond.