The Sixers have Something Special in Ben Simmons
A year later than originally expected, Ben Simmons made his NBA debut on Wednesday, and for Sixers fans, it was well worth the wait.
Simmons entered the NBA last summer as one of the most highly-hyped prospects in recent memory, only to miss the entirety of what would have been his rookie season with a foot fracture. After a season on the sideline, Simmons is clearly ready to remind the league at large why he was drawing comparisons to LeBron James at 17.
As he did during 2016 Summer League and preseason play, Simmons showed flashes of brilliance during his debut on Wednesday as he sprinted and slashed his way to 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in 35 minutes of action.
With his varied skill set, Simmons is a stat sheet-stuffer and a nightly triple-double threat. More than just production potential though, it is Simmons’ feel for the game that leads you to believe that he could be something [really] special.
Simmons plays with the poise of an older player, and boats an uncanny feel for the floor and an almost innate ability to know where his teammates are, or are going to be. Watch him deliver pinpoint passes through traffic to a cutting teammate, or laser absolutely accurate cross-court passes at full speed in transition, and you feel as though you’re seeing an experienced orchestrator, not someone who is playing point guard at the professional level for the first time.
"I knew Ben was really good, but if he keeps that up, he’s going to be really special," Sixers guard T.J. McConnell said of Simmons after the Sixers’ season opener, via Bleacher Report. "He plays at his own pace, he didn’t force anything, ran the show—he played like he’s been in the league for six to seven years."
Simmons himself said his debut felt like he was playing 2K, and to an outside observer, that description seems oddly accurate.
“It felt like I was playing [NBA]2K, honestly,” Simmons said. “Just looking at [Joel] Embiid out there with lights on his jersey, I was like ‘Man, I’m actually here.’”
“Exceptional” is how Sixers coach Brett Brown described Simmons’ debut.
“I feel that his first game was really exceptional, really, really exceptional,” Brown said. “Physically, we all see what he is as an athlete, and I think that his growth path, his improvement scale, I think it can be off the charts.”
Sure there is plenty of room for improvement – the development of a consistent jump shot outside of the paint could ultimately make the difference between really good and great for Simmons – but even without one, he’s a difference-maker.
Over the offseason, Simmons set a lofty career goal for himself.
"My goal is to be the best in the league," Simmons said to ESPN. "I'm not worried about other rookies, I'm worried about the guys at the top, and that's where I want to be."
After his premier performance, there’s reason to think he could get there.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.