Players like Ben Simmons aren’t commonplace. A towering, rugged forward that handles the ball and passes to teammates in transition do not come along often. Watching Simmons this summer league provided the first glimpse of how his skill set translates to a bigger playing surface, and with better talent. This pass to Timothe Luwawu in transition was reason enough to be satisfied with his debut. But he flashed even more breathtaking passes in Utah and Las Vegas.
Through four summer league games Simmons has as many passing highlights as any 76er did last season. He’s playing against inferior competition, but the vision, and ability, is there. It’s evident he knows exactly where to find his teammates. This pass was a thing of beauty. He seeks the highlight play over the simple one sometimes. But it’s summer league, and who can blame him for trying to put on a show?
Simmons said he had to be more aggressive to find his shot before Sunday’s game against Chicago.Simmons didn’t score in double-figures once over the first three summer league games, but he scored 18 in the loss to the Bulls. Simmons didn’t put up the assist numbers partly because of how Chicago played him, but also because Simmons aggressively hunted for his shot. In the process, Simmons displayed a diverse offensive repertoire. A crossover, step back in rhythm jumper, attacking the lane, finishing a floater with contact, a baseline drive with an aggressive dunk followed by another baseline drive, resulting in a reverse lay-up, a post-up evolving into an elbow-extended jumper and a pull-up jumper.
Simmons won’t be comfortable shooting 3-pointers yet, but keeping the defense honest will do wonders for Philadelphia’s offense moving forward. Simmons can’t be shy with his jumper. This piece, by Jake Fischer, exemplifies exactly why it’s important for Simmons’ mentality to shoot the ball as often as possible. Philly doesn’t want Simmons to take all the shots, of course, and they also don’t want him to be a player he’s not. But he’s the face of the franchise, and if he’s going to grow as basketball player he has to be unafraid of any shot.
It makes sense why Philly chose Jerryd Bayless over more traditional point guards. Bryan Colangelo and Brett Brown envision Simmons running some point this year. He might not play as much lead guard as he has in Utah and Las Vegas, but in certain situations Simmons will be the primary ball handler, and his ability to breakdown defenses and find the open guy will be fascinating to watch. Philly will rely on Simmons to handle end of quarter situations similar to the Spurs relying on Manu Ginobili.
Simmons might have dogged it defensively at LSU. His effort wasn’t always apparent on defense. But so far he hasn’t looked terrible on that end. Brown’s a solid defensive coach. He usually gets maximum effort out of his players. Simmons isn’t stupid. He knows defense and winning go together. Sure Simmons will be tired at times, and his effort on defense will falter, but overall he’ll be fine on that end. For Simmons, it’s always been about the big picture. He wanted to be a pro for a long time, and it’s probably unfair to classify him as a poor defender based on his freshman year.
Simmons has averaged 7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in four summer league games. It’s the smallest of sample size in watered down competition, but only nine players 6-10 or taller in NBA history have averaged those numbers in a season. It demonstrate how rare a player of Simmons’ stature can both rebound and facilitate. Most of the nine players are true center. Lamar Odom averaged at least 7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game once, and that’s a player people compare with Simmons. He was the very definition of a point-forward. Simmons might begin as a point-forward, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Simmons becomes Philly’s future point guard, especially if the 76ers have a chance to take a dominant wing like Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum.
Nothing’s ever a finished project. Simmons will struggle at times. He’ll commit too many turnovers in some games. He’ll pass up open shots in others. He’ll take possessions off on defense. But his talent’s rare. Guys at his size don’t handle the ball as well as Simmons. Guys at his size don’t pass the ball anywhere near as well as Simmons. And that makes Simmons’ rookie year a must-see event.