Ben Simmons was one of 22 rookies to make their NBA debut on Wednesday, and he had a dazzling first game.
Since 1983-84, according to Basketball Reference, there have been just two players to record at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in their NBA debut. Grant Hill had 25 points, 10 boards and five dimes on Nov. 4, 1994; Ben Simmons had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on Oct. 18, 2017.
“It felt like I was playing 2K, honestly,” said Simmons after the game to Nick Metallinos of ESPN. “Just looking at Joel Embiid out there with the lights on his jersey. I was like, ‘man, I’m actually here.’”
Simmons has been the most anticipated rookie since LeBron James. His only year at LSU was terrific, and he laid waste to the entire SEC by averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. The Philadelphia 76ers decision to take him first overall was almost a no-brainer. Not only did he tally the numbers, Simmons’ displayed a point guard’s skill set but stands at 6-10, a combination that the NBA has never seen before. The amalgamation of all three is what led to a tidal wave of hype that did, in fact, anoint him as the next LeBron. I don’t feel comfortable proclaiming something like that after just one game, but, to talk about him as a budding superstar fits this piece.
As we all know, we’re seeing Simmons a year later than we were supposed to because a Jones fracture kept him out of action for the entire 2016-17 season. Instead of rushing back one of their franchise cornerstones, the Sixers elected to sit him for the whole year just to be extra cautious. We did, however, get to watch Simmons in one summer league tournament and one preseason, and there’s a seamless transition to meaningful basketball that the level of competition hasn’t disrupted.
Philly opened the season against the Washington Wizards and lost 120-115. It was a thrilling contest. Simmons, arguably, wasn’t even the best player on his team that night. Robert Covington took everyone’s breath away by nailing seven threes en route to a 29-points performance; Joel Embiid — who called his minutes restriction “fucking bullshit” — dropped 18 points and inhaled 13 rebounds in 27 minutes. Simmons, however, conducted the offense masterfully and was close to being unguardable around the basket. At 21, he’s got a grown man’s body, and it’s a chore for anyone to try and stay in front of him. Moreover, he’s got the dexterity and patience to create the perfect look.
Before that hook shot, he blew right by Otto Porter for his first NBA bucket.
Simmons also made himself a terror in transition, and neither team had a problem pushing the pace. Basketball Reference estimated that there were 105 possessions on Wednesday night. Being an overgrown point guard, Simmons has the defense at his will when the game gets frenetic. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and has the sixth sense to find whoever’s open before they get there, but the defender still has to decide who they want to commit too. Usually, guards are responsible for getting back on defense. In this case, it’s Bradley Beal. He stood no chance. I’m not too confident in any guards stopping Ben Simmons at the rim.
What impressed me the most was Simmons’ poise. The first game jitters were minimal, and nothing bothered him about being in the league. When you watched him during summer league, he toyed with defenders because the talent disparity was so significant. Now, Simmons is playing against equal competition. The speed and skill of the defenders didn’t do anything, and no one forced Simmons to make ill-advised passes or hoist up shots that he didn’t want to. The most encouraging thing a rookie can do is just to make the right play time and time again.
Washington couldn’t coerce the Australian into taking outside shots. All of Simmons’ attempts came from below the free throw line, and each of his makes came inside of 10 feet. The lack of a jumper is the only huge knock on his game. If he ever develops that, well, good luck to the rest of the NBA. (There’s also the chance that never happens. LeBron has gone his entire career without a consistent outside jumper.)
As the year progresses, I hope to see Simmons get more efficient out of the pick-and-roll. He had seven possessions as the ball handler on Wednesday, according to Synergy. He generated just 0.57 points per possession. That’s terrible. There are, however, some ways to theoretically make his life easier. Using Joel Embiid as the roll man would be tremendous. Having two players of their caliber work together is super annoying for the defense to handle. There is, really, only one way to defend that and that’s to go under the screen and force Simmons into a jump shot. Of course, Embiid is a wide body, and the defender could get hung up. If the recovery is slow, Simmons can put his head down and then react to how the rest of the defense handles it. There was one of those instances against the Wizards.
One game is a crazy small sample size, and no opinion should be taken seriously based on it. However, overreactions are common in the NBA, and those are vastly different than opinions. Ben Simmons, in his debut, showed everyone that he’s the real deal and can become a superstar if he continues to improve on the foundation that he’s already laid. He’s got the entire package, and now we just have to play the waiting game.
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