As much fun as it is to play armchair NBA scout about a player's strengths and weaknesses based on one game's sample size, all you really care about with your top prospects' Summer League debuts is that they show flashes of what they can do and they get out of there healthy. Well, 1.5 out of 2 for Ben Simmons in his Utah premiere last night, as dude definitely gave us a solid look at the goods before limping off the court midway through the 4th quarter. (Calf cramps, he'll be fine. We pray.) The Sixers fell 102-94 to the Celtics' loaded Summer League squad, but Simmons (10 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, just one turnover) and friends dazzled before ultimately coming up short — a theme likely to recur throughout the summer and into the regular season.
No Benny tomorrow night against San Antonio — rest, not injury-related, or so they say — so let's break down the good and less good from Simmons' first 24 minutes of roughly NBA-caliber basketball.
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Passes, Passes, Passes. What you hope to get to see in some quantity during a player's first Summer League appearance is that one elite skill, that quality that separates them from the NBA Muggles, that thing they can do that makes even non-fans speak in emojis. For Simmons, that skill was supposed to be his passing, and last night, you could certainly see why. He whips 'em like Vincent Velasquez, so sharp and on target it's gonna take his teammates some time to be able to properly prep for. But he also throws gorgeous no-looks down the lane, threads the needle in the open floor, and turns the corner for alley-oops. He's the kind of distributor whose passes sometimes look like bad shots at first, until they end up in the hands of a big man wide open under the basket. Impressive, fun-as-hell stuff.
Transition. As exciting as it was last summer when Jahlil would set up in the post and you knew he was about to go to work, it's even more spine-tingling when Simmons gets a defensive rebound amid chaos, and you know he's gonna pump it up-court and do something exciting with it. He's not LeBron-fast, but he's close to LeBron-imposing, and his dribbling and passing ability give the defense the same kind of HOLY S**T HOW DO WE HANDLE ALL THE POSSIBILITIES OF THIS panic, if at a slightly slower pace.
Hey, Defense! The thing I was really impressed with about Simmons' first outing was on the defensive side of the ball, where he's not supposed to even excel just yet. He ran over screens on the perimeter and switched confidently and coherently when called on to do so, he bodied up his man on drives and generally managed to keep his feet in front, he even drew a charge on fellow lottery pick Jaylen Brown. He wasn't perfect — he took a bad swipe that led to an easy layup on one half-court set, and he failed to get to his spots in time once or twice while rotating. But on the whole, his versatility and his instincts were encouraging.
And a Jumper! His defender sagged off him, he took the open 12-footer, and he hit it. Doesn't exactly make him Kevin Durant (who, contrary to reports, willnot be joining the 76ers next season, drat) just yet, but it's a shot he's gonna have to take and make several thousand times over the course of his career. May as well start now.
Iso. At one point Simmons tried to clear space with a crossover dribble on the perimeter and pulled up for an iso jumper. It looked clumsy, slow, and a little off-balance before he shot it, and it was easily blocked. Not his game yet, certainly.
In-between game. Simmons only shot 2-9 for the night, and most of the misses came on sprawling drives to the hoop where he launched with no clear plan of how to actually put ball in basket. Right now, it seems that when defenders really get up on him, there's not a ton he can do to make them pay — as a matter of fact, he looked a little MCW-ish at times. Having a coherent offense in place will help with that, and one game is hardly the final word there anyway, but he certainly doesn't look near ready to be an offensive first option, certainly.
Ball domination. It was pretty apparent to me that looking for the nominal point guard when looking to set up the Sixers' offense was not a priority of Simmons' — he all but ignored T.J. McConnell and Alex Caruso in the interest of putting the half-court wheels in motion himself. Not necessarily a bad thing, and Simmons may in fact be the Sixers' closest thing to a true point before long, but it could end up rubbing some of his teammates (especially those used to being the assumed distributor on offense) the wrong way.
THE OTHER DUDES
T.J. McConnell. Looking Nashier every day. Not in the shooting department, of course — T.J. only scored five points on 2-8 shooting, including some wide-open bricks — but his passing game is getting downright breathtaking, and he looked like an absolute veteran distributing his seven dimes last night. (And he is 24, so fair enough.) He and Simmons might be the best passing duo to take the court this summer, and even though the Sixers inked point guards Jerryd Bayless and now Sergio Rodriguez (one year for $8 million — he's 30 and left the NBA for the Euroleague six years ago, but now he can supposedly shoot better) in the past week, T.J. should still be in the mix for minutes at the one this upcoming season.
Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. 13 points on 3-7 shooting, including 2-5 from deep, for our other 2016 first-rounder's debut. (See you next year, Furkan.) Not a ton else to say about Timothé's inaugural performance except that he generally seems to be as advertised so far
Christian Wood and Richaun Holmes. These guys are gonna love, love, love playing with Ben and T.J. this summer. Our two second-year project bigs combined for a ridiculous 33 points on 9-13 shooting, getting about as many easy dunks and free throws last night as they got all last year combined. Interior defense leaves much to be desired, though Holmes' five blocks definitely started getting in the heads of Celtics penetrators, but these guys are gonna part of some nice highlights before summer's end.
James Webb II. Appears to be the ultimate Sixers wild card this summer: a forward with good size and athleticism (and hair), and all the energy in the world and maybe not the best idea of what to do with it yet. He wrecked havoc on defense and also committed six fouls in less than 17 minutes, he scored ten points on ten shots (including a putback dunk off his own missed free throw), and the box score says he only had one steal and one turnover but I swear he was involved with the ball changing possession in one direction or another at least a half-dozen times in the fourth. Gonna be fun chaos to watch these next few weeks.
5:00 tonight against "The Spurs." The Sixers are back. Never leave us again.