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October 05, 2017

Ben Simmons as a point guard is real, and it's spectacular

“Oh my God, I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years. That kid, they’re not talking about him enough.”

That’s what Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale had to say about Sixers rookie Ben Simmons Wednesday night, shortly after Simmons made his (sort-of) NBA debut in front of the fans in South Philadelphia. There are worse people to get that sort of praise from: Fizdale saw the “Big 3” Miami Heat up close as an assistant coach, so he knows what it’s like to be around players at the highest level.

We can stop short of putting Ben Simmons at that level until he attempts a jump shot, but the early returns make it painfully obvious that this kid is going to be real good, real soon.

After one preseason game, the surprising part may be just how natural Simmons looks playing as a legitimate, if oversized, point guard. Brett Brown has been referring to him as one for some time now, and he carried out the role plenty during training camp scrimmages, but it’s a completely different experience to watch play out in an actual game. Simmons’ teammates actively look for him whenever there’s a made basket or defensive rebound, knowing they need to get the ball in the hands of No. 25 ASAP.

Part of that instinct has nothing to do with Simmons’ point guard ability, and everything to do with his strength as a transition scorer. He has the speed and handle to beat opposing teams down the floor, and the strength to finish through contact when he gets to the rim.

But we’ve seen plenty of players who can get theirs while defenses aren’t set. What makes Simmons special is how advanced his reading of the game is at such a young age, and how natural running an offense appears to be for him. He doesn’t always need to push the tempo, and though JJ Redick didn’t convert this opportunity, Simmons’ willingness to let the play develop led to an easy feed and a high-value look.

Patience is rare among young playmakers, who tend to cope with the stress of facing NBA defenses by overcompensating with tempo. This is fine in spurts, but more often than not leads to hurried and mistake-prone offense, and is a big reason rookie playmakers tend to have little team success.

Simmons and Redick weren’t successful on the first go, but you can already see the benefits each man will provide the other. Watch here, as Simmons hits Redick with a pass right in his shooting pocket, allowing the sharpshooter to get into his shooting motion without any extra effort.

Later in the first half, Redick and Simmons teamed up once again, in what Sixers fans hope will be a common occurrence this season. Turning on the jets after getting a screen from Richaun Holmes, Memphis’ defense collapses on Simmons in the paint. That leaves Redick wide open in the corner, and he uses Memphis’ scrambling defense to his advantage, creating an easy bucket at the rim with a simple pump-fake.

The big men on the Sixers will benefit just as much as the shooters. Holmes has already experienced playing with Simmons a good bit, having teamed up with him during Summer League in 2016, and his ability to catch and finish in the paint pairs nicely with Simmons. Keeping his head up the whole way in, Simmons dumps off to a diving Holmes at the last minute, and it’s lights-out from there.

Dump-off passes are nothing special, but Simmons can find ways to create them in moments where they appear unavailable. Using a quick ball and head fake, Simmons convinces the defense he’s going to Holmes up top. Instead, he squeezes a nice bounce pass into Holmes. The result does not erase the intelligent play that came before it.

Simmons has a lot of questions to answer this season, and it feels unlikely that teams will play him as tight as Memphis did when the regular season hits. He’s going to need to take (and make) jump shots to keep defenses honest, and we didn’t see him hoist a single jumper on Wednesday.

But Brett Brown summed it up nicely in his post-game presser: “I think Ben tonight, you could see was sort of an advanced rookie.” You can say that again, Coach.