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June 25, 2016

Simmons’ talent presents Sixers with new opportunities

At his core, Brett Brown is infectiously upbeat. You don’t survive 47 combined wins in three full NBA seasons without a consistently positive attitude. But seeing him this past Tuesday, it wasn’t difficult to tell there was an extra bounce in his step. Heck, the 55-year-old Brown might have been able to dunk.

Everyone at PCOM looked pleased that day, and for good reason. The team had just worked out Ben Simmons, the player they selected first overall in the NBA Draft a few days later.

“We’ve now drafted I think something very, very special in Ben Simmons,” Brown said on Thursday night. “And so when you start adding that into the mix of what we have and add that future that we all know with other draft picks coming up… you can actually touch people and see a team that’s taking shape where you cannot feel like it’s [not] going to move a lot.”

With three years of painful Processing already in the books, it’s important to note that the Sixers had this opportunity ever since Sam Hinkie traded Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans on draft night three years ago, turning the franchise onto its head. Play the lottery hard multiple times, chances are that something good eventually happens.

And yet like Brown said, the addition of Simmons feels different. An idea has turned into something tangible. The Sixers lost all of those games to draft a player of Simmons’ caliber. Now they have their potential superstar, an elite talent.

Put the tape on, and Simmons jumps off the screen. He’s an athletic playmaking point guard in a sculpted power forward’s body. President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was seduced by Simmons’ skill level the first time he saw him play.

“Talent, size, skill,” Colangelo said. “He’s got everything. He’s the full package as a basketball player and you talk about the things he’s capable of doing on the court, he can be special.

“And once again, Philadelphia should be happy to have Ben Simmons. Fans are going to be thrilled with what they see.”

Entering the league, Simmons is not the slam-dunk superstar that his friend LeBron James once was. The jump shot will need to be improved upon in a major way, as will his effort level on the other end of the court. Simmons has to put is some serious work in to become a superstar. He’s aware of this.

What’s important is that Simmons definitely has the talent to be an elite player, something this franchise hasn’t possessed in a long time. Over a full season, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game on incredible efficiency. Those are video game numbers for anyone, much less a freshman.

“I’m not sure how good I’ll be, but as long as I’m putting in the work, I believe I can be a very good player,” Simmons said.

The last three regular seasons have been long, painful slogs for the Sixers, but every year, I have noticed something just as painful in the playoffs: Underdogs that have little chance to win a series, a team with a talent level that isn’t up to par with their opponent. This was the Sixers before Hinkie arrived.

Brown refers to the playoffs, which he participated in every year as an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s bench, as a different sport. He’s right. Weaknesses that aren’t evident in the regular season always get exposed, and a team’s true talent level becomes apparent.

That is why the Sixers have tried to acquire players like Simmons in the draft. You need a bunch of things to win an NBA title (including luck), but more than anything, you need top-end talent. You win big with players that make their teammates better, something that Simmons has the potential to do.

(Insert LSU joke here.)

The last three years, Brown has coached a bunch of players at the other end of the NBA talent spectrum. But don’t forget that he was consistently at the top of the mountain in San Antonio. If he’s this excited about Ben Simmons, Sixers fans probably should be too.

“There’s been a lot of things that you would look at and say, ‘I’m not sure how he stood through the whole thing,’” Colangelo said about Brown. “But he did with a stiff upper lip and this is a reward. It’s a reward for the ownership, it’s a reward for management, a reward for the coaching staff and certainly for the fans of Philadelphia to be at this point as we jump off in a new direction.”

Follow Rich of Twitter: @rich_hofmann