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Simmons ready to fulfill promise with fledgling Sixers

Toughest choice for Philly may be where to play talented No. 1 pick

POSTED: Jul 10, 2016 2:42 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


Ben Simmons v Brandon Ingram

Nuggets GM Tim Connelly sits down with Matt Devlin and Brent Barry.

— It begins with a no-look pass, then a bounce pass, then a drive and dish, followed by a lob. Yes, it's apparent here in the Samsung Summer League that the Ben Simmons Experience is geared to get the most out of his teammates, most of whom won't be his teammates when his rookie season starts.

That's their loss, of course. The first impression of Simmons, the league's No. 1 overall choice, is that it's fun to play on the same floor with him. If you are open, he will find you. And if you're not open, the ball still might land in your mitts.

Until he develops more confidence in his jumper, the best asset Simmons will bring to the rebuilding Sixers is his ability to make his teammates better. And this is a rare skill, especially for someone who's 6-foot-10 and is already the best facilitator and creator on the club.

Throughout the Sixers' game against the Lakers, Simmons handled the ball, signaled the play and controlled the flow. It looked ... natural. The role seemed to fit him better than his uniform, and perhaps the hardest decision for the Sixers is where to play him. He has the height to play on the front line and the passing ability to play in the backcourt. Philly won't be choosy; with his knack for seeing the floor, Simmons will play anywhere.

Simmons Dimes Luwawu Cabarrot

Ben Simmons dishes to Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot who finishes with the layup.

"He's had that mentality since he first started playing as a kid," said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who once coached in Australia, where Simmons was born and raised, and knew him. "Then he added the skills. So the collision of the two has produced what you see now."

Simmons had eight assists Saturday. He also had seven turnovers and was often stripped of the ball while trying to dribble through traffic. The ability to protect the ball against smaller and quicker players on the NBA level will be a work in progress, but Simmons never lost his confidence after making a mistake in an anticipated game Saturday against the No. 2 overall pick, Brandon Ingram.

The Lakers won based on the heroics of D'Angelo Russell in the final eight seconds, when he swished a pair of long jumpers, the last one a three at the buzzer for a one-point win. But the Sixers are feeling like winners with Simmons, who played well in the Utah tournament and is following up nicely so far in Las Vegas.

He plays as though he fully accepts the responsibility and burden of being a savior for a franchise that has essentially tanked just to get a player like him, someone with star qualities. Simmons brings a take-charge personality even though he'll turn 20 in two weeks and wants the ball during important moments. Those are the traits that stars are either born with or develop before they reach the NBA. He brings speed, change of pace, length and vision. And so, based on the early returns, Simmons is on track to fulfill the hope the Sixers have for him.

Simmons to McConnell

Ben Simmons feeds TJ McConnell on the baseline for the layup.

Brown said he'll use Simmons at forward but the ball will run through him in the Sixers' system, which has been revamped to take advantage of his skill set.

"I've gone on record about the difference of a point guard and the difference of a point forward," said Brown. "With him, I see both. The NBA point guard is the hardest position to play, particularly as a rookie who has never played the position. So sometimes you feel reckless if you feed that to him a lot. I see him in a lot of areas, and growing into them as time unfolds."

Simmons is being open-minded about the idea of controlling the ball.

"I know I can definitely play point guard," he said.

Simmons to Luwawu Cabarrot

Ben Simmons passes to a cutting Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot for the layup.

Is Simmons unselfish to a fault? On Saturday he took only eight shots in 30 minutes, although he said it wasn't by design. The Lakers were clearly trying to disrupt him and force him to make his teammates beat them. He also didn't help himself when he missed a point-blank finger roll at the rim.

"I just want to be assertive and take what they give you," he said.

Very likely, the Sixers won't know the true value of Simmons until he gets better teammates. On three or four occasions, he threw timely passes, only to see his summer league teammates spoil the assist. When the season begins, Simmons won't have the luxury of playing alongside a proven big scorer or an All-Star veteran. He must break in with players of developing talent, such as Jahlil Okafor, and maybe Joel Embiid if the power forward is properly healed this season.

The Sixers could pull a trade for a scorer during the season, but for now, Simmons will be asked to pass and score, which he did effectively in his one and only season in college.

"I'm looking forward to learning from my mistakes this summer," he said. "I'm not where I want to be right now. Not even close."

Oop to Holmes

Ben Simmons lobs the ball up to Richaun Holmes who throws down the jam.

The Sixers are thrilled with the promise; forget the finished product. This is a franchise that needs hope and a reason to stir the fan base. Simmons has been anointed and he has accepted. The process of finding the next big talent who can transform the franchise and fill the house and jump-start the turnaround has begun. There hasn't been this level of anticipation around the Sixers since Allen Iverson in his prime.

And even though Simmons hasn't done anything in the NBA yet, Brown is already thinking big about his rookie, particularly about Simmons' ability to uplift his teammates.

"I think he's going to be an A-plus in that category, in terms of assisting, bringing the team together and being a big part of chemistry," Brown said. "He has it. He has it. You know it when you see it."

The Sixers have seen some of "it" and now the appetite to see more is beginning to grow.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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