SALT LAKE CITY -- When it comes to measuring his potential as a pro basketball player in the NBA, Ben Simmons isn't thinking like other rookies. Simmons is already looking at the top players in the league and seeing what he needs to do to bring his game up to their levels.
How he compares with other rookies doesn't matter to the former LSU star. Faring well against the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durrant is a greater driving force in his development.
“Those are the guys I have to be facing, so I have to get ready for them,” Simmons said. “I respect everybody. I don't fear anyone. So when we go into every game, I'm willing to put in the work to win.”
Simmons will get his first chance to show what he can do for the Sixers when they meet the Boston Celtics in the Utah Jazz summer league opener on Monday. The Sixers will also play the San Antonio Spurs and the Jazz this week before facing the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors next week in the Las Vegas summer league.
He and fellow first round draft pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot practiced with the summer league team for the first time on Sunday, a day after they signed their rookie contracts.
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The native Australian showed a little rust on day one, but it didn't diminish the thrill Simmons felt finally lacing up his shoes and getting out on the court again.
“It feels so good to be a part of a team,” Simmons said. “Just being on the court. It's the first time I've played since my final game at LSU.”
The spotlight will be fixed on the Sixers' top pick throughout his time in the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas – on and off the court. Being the No. 1 overall pick creates a natural target. Simmons knows other rookies want nothing more than to prove themselves at his expense.
Not only is he anticipating getting everyone's best shot, he's welcoming it.
“I know a lot of people will be coming for me because I got that No. 1 spot,” Simmons said. “It's always been like that for me since high school. Everyone has always wanted to go at me and have that shot. It's fun. I love getting the challenge.”
Simmons made a good first impression with the Sixers' coaching staff on his first day of practice. His size, his athletic play and his passing ability drew praise from head coach Brett Brown. In his limited time seeing Simmons so far, Brown already likes how Simmons is fitting into the team culture with his unselfish play.
Brown saw this kind of potential from Simmons during his lone season at LSU. In 33 games with the Tigers, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 34.9 minutes per contest.
"He just finds awesome joy and enthusiasm in sharing the basketball and that becomes contagious," Brown said.
Simmons is the latest talent to come out of a burgeoning Australian basketball pipeline. He is the second top five pick from the country in the last three seasons after the Jazz selected Dante Exum fifth overall in 2014. Exum is a close friend and former teammate of Simmons. He described the Jazz point guard as being like a brother to him.
Simmons sees both he and Exum making it to the NBA as a positive sign for the sport's growth in his home country. Their success, he believes, will only make it easier for other Australians to pursue their NBA dreams.
“There's a lot of talent back there,” Simmons said. “A lot of Australian players coming into the NBA helps kids back home get recruited. It's a lot easier for them to adjust this system and get a lot more looks from colleges.”