On Australian Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center, Ben Simmons showed why Brett Brown believes "he will end up the best basketball product ever out of the country."
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"I think the style of game, him rebounding, it allowed him to put his thumbprint on this game in a big way early," Brown said.
Simmons dominated from the start, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring eight points in the first quarter. He became the first member of the Sixers to pull down at least 11 boards in a quarter in eight years, since Samuel Dalembert did it in 2010.
He had an 11-point, 13-rebound double-double by halftime, and reached the triple-double mark in just the third quarter.
Simmons' stat line particularly stands out because he did it in only his 43rd career game. He joined Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams on the top-three list of most triple-doubles through 50 games. When it comes to this season, Simmons ranks third behind only Russell Westbrook and LeBron James in triple-doubles.
Simmons, who is averaging 7.9 rebounds per game, had not been attacking the glass as much recently. In his previous seven games played in January, Simmons had five or less rebounds in as many matchups. That includes just one against the Raptors and two against the Celtics. He made a concerted effort facing the Bulls.
"I think just being on the boards and making it one of those things where I'm actually trying to get boards and going to the boards every time I can," Simmons said. "I'm usually getting those rebounds. I think I went away from it the last couple weeks. It was one of those things where I was just doing it. I had to be reminded."
Perhaps more significant than getting the rebound is what Simmons does after he's gained possession. The 6-foot-10 point guard uses his combination of speed, strength and ball-handling to run the fast break. That unique skill set gives Brown flashbacks to Hall of Famers.
"He can rebound and take off," Brown said. "I still think that's the hardest thing to guard. Back in the day, you'd see Charles Barkley do that and rebound, lead a break. It's hard to defend that with the exception of maybe the high kickout, the high outlet, that's maybe the second-most effective way. You'd see Earvin ‘Magic' Johnson do it all the time.
"I thought in the first half there was a lot of what we call dribble-out backdowns where he was out there, nobody was ahead of him, he'd turn and play and find other people on the other side of the floor or spin off and finish himself."
Joel Embiid noticed those game-changing attributes, as well as another possible push. Simmons, who finished third among fan votes for Eastern Conference guards, was not named an All-Star reserve by head coaches.
"I felt like he was just focused from the get-go," Embiid said. "We played tough defensively, especially the first quarter, so there was a lot of rebounds to grab and he was extra aggressive offensively. Besides Australia Night, I think that he just wanted it tonight and him not making [the All-Star Game] might have had something to do with it, too."
Simmons answered "no" when asked if he was motivated by the voting results. He was selected to the World Team for the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game, along with Embiid and Dario Saric.
"Things happen. They happen for a reason," Simmons said. "I wish I did make it but it's going to be hopefully plenty more years."
With games like this, he's on the right track.