Both Ben Simmons and Kawhi Leonard have dealt with serious long-term injuries in recent years, but they both have untapped fantasy potential. Who is the better pick in fantasy drafts? Joe Kaiser and André Snellings debate:
André Snellings: Last season, Leonard played nine games as he dealt with a lingering case of quad tendinopathy in what was ultimately a lost campaign. He is a year further removed from the injury, on an entirely new team that fits him, and there's a good chance that he can return to his previously lofty levels this season. However, even if that occurs, his ceiling isn't as high as that of Simmons, especially in points leagues.
Simmons spent last season, his redshirt rookie season, proving that he could play full-time point guard at the NBA level. He made himself into a nightly triple-double threat, averaging 14.5 PPG (58.9 FG%) with 9.8 APG, 8.9 RPG, 1.4 SPG and 0.8 BPG in 27 games after the All-Star Break. He had averaged 18.5 PPG and 2.2 SPG over the first two months of the season, demonstrating his upside in those categories. And he did all of this with no experience and a breathtaking lack of a jump shot, which led every team's scouting reports.
While Simmons' Rookie of the Year campaign was extremely impressive, he still has a lot of upside as a sophomore. At only 22 years old, he is still developing rapidly in body and mind, and having that first year under his belt should help him to become much more natural as a floor general.
Plus, he has made no secret that he worked hard on his jumper during the offseason. Even if it's not quite a weapon, if he can make even an open mid-range jumper at a reasonable clip, he becomes even more of a matchup nightmare for opponents.
He is a legit 6-foot-10 and solidly built, with the quickness/ball-handling of a true point guard and the athleticism to finish strongly in the paint. The only successful defense of him last season was to back off and let him shoot, so any improvement on that front takes him from excellent to elite.
Simmons is also the engine of one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA. With Joel Embiid drawing major defensive attention and current redshirt rookie Markelle Fultz likely to provide a better on-ball scoring threat than the 76ers had last season, defenses will have difficulty keying on Simmons.
Plus, with strong shooters such as Dario Saric, Robert Covington and JJ Redick on the wings, Simmons has a team full of assist targets who should also open up the lane for him to get to the rim at will.
All told, Simmons is currently going at the end of the first round or start of the second round of most drafts, but by the end of the season, it wouldn't be surprising at all if he were a consensus top-five pick moving forward.
Joe Kaiser: Leonard carries more risk than Simmons, simply because he is coming off a season during which he played only nine games due to a mysterious quad injury, but he also excels in more categories and, thus, has more upside. When at his best, we're talking about a top 10-12 fantasy player.
The former Spurs star enters his first season with the Raptors in a contract year with much to prove, and that's an enticing combination. Remember, in 2016-17, this is a guy who averaged 25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 SPG and 2.0 3PG.
Assuming that he returns to being the same player he was that season -- and at age 27, there's no reason to think that cannot happen -- Leonard is much more of a scorer and 3-point threat than Simmons. Leonard also carries a decisive advantage over Simmons in another important category: free throw shooting. While Simmons made just 56 percent of his attempts from the line as a rookie, Leonard has averaged a sizzling 84.6 FT% during his seven-year career.
On top of all this, Simmons' production in several key areas stands to take a hit this season with the addition of Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Now healthy and showing improved shooting form during the preseason, Fultz is expected to start ahead of JJ Redick. With that, the jumbo point guard Fultz stands to take the ball out of Simmons' hands more often than last season; at 6-foot-4, it's not out of the range of possibility that the springy guard could also cut into Simmons' rebounding totals.