LAS VEGAS – This time last summer, Ben Simmons, weeks removed from being chosen No. 1 in the draft, was in the midst of his first foray into professional hoops, and enjoyed quite the auspicious experience.
In six summer league outings, the Australian displayed just about every quality that made him such a coveted prospect – athleticism, downhill speed, interior offensive strength, the ability to grab a rebound and lead a break, and – with his combination of anticipation, creativity, and passing – a freakish facilitating touch.
A year later, seemingly clear of any issues surrounding the right foot fracture that sidelined him for all of what was supposed to be a season with Rookie of the Year potential, Simmons is back in Las Vegas. While he’s not participating in summer league, he’s been around the 76ers on a regular basis, attending games at Thomas & Mack Center.
Sunday night in particular, it was hard to ignore the aura of anticipation that Simmons projected. Most of the evening, he was seated along one of the arena’s baselines, chatting up members of the organization – from fellow players Richaun Holmes and Jahlil Okafor, to coach Brett Brown and front office staff.
It was during stoppages in play, however, where you could really see the itch. Frequently, Simmons would rise from his folding chair, step right up to the endline itself, and look out on the court in front of him.
In these moments Sunday, the scenes that were unfolding before Simmons might have very well been entertaining, but, with all due respect, probably not exceptionally captivating for a professional basketball player. Kids took part in TV timeout contests, cheerleaders performed routines, promotions were being run – things like that.
Fast forward a few months, however, and all signs point to the lay of the land being vastly different. Simmons will no longer be a bystander. It will be him on the hardwood, sporting the Sixers’ No. 25 jersey, joining forces with a growing nucleus that consists of another No. 1 pick, a game-changing big man, and now, an enhanced shooting corps thanks to a major free agent acquisition over the weekend.
Sunday, Simmons sounded ready to get started.
“I think everybody just knows it’s time to play,” he told reporters during the third quarter of the Sixers’ 101-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. “We just want to play.”
Which, despite Simmons not being in uniform in either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, is precisely what the 20-year old has been doing for the better part of his spring and summer. He confirmed Sunday that his workouts at the Sixers’ training complex as of late have involved full-contact, 5-on-5 activities.
Simmons said he’s been focused on fine tuning “everything” about his game, and is optimistic about what the future holds for the Sixers. His trip to Las Vegas has only stoked his anticipation that much more.
“I think it’s just being around the NBA community in general, seeing the faces coming from players, getting back into the game. It’s been a while since I’ve been with the team.”
The Sixers indeed have done much to enrich their roster over the course of the 13 months that Simmons has been with the organization, especially in the last three weeks. June 22nd, the club, again at the top of the draft order, grabbed Markelle Fultz, who, prior to suffering a lateral ankle sprain Saturday, had exhibited plenty of promise. Earlier that afternoon, the Sixers finalized free agent contracts with spot-on 3-point threat JJ Redick, and proven power forward Amir Johnson.
“I’m excited,” Simmons said. “I’m excited to just get out here and play with those vets, and then also Markelle, a great young player.”
On the heels of landing Fultz, whom Bryan Colangelo has dubbed a “prototypical combo guard,” the conversation surrounding the Sixers quickly shifted to how this year’s No. 1 pick would fit with last year’s No. 1, given that the team has indicated Simmons will likely open the season as its primary ball-handler.
Simmons, who stated Sunday he views himself as “a starting point guard,” thinks the two will form a productive pair.
“I think it will be easy,” Simmons said, when asked about playing with Fultz. “I have no problem sharing the ball, and he doesn’t either. Watching him play, he can share the ball definitely.”
In recent weeks, Simmons says he’s gotten to know Fultz a little more, calling his new teammate a “cool guy.”
“He’s a great person, and obviously a great player,” said Simmons, “and he loves putting in the work, which is definitely a big thing.”
Another area in which, based on Simmons’ Instragram feed, he and Fultz appear to share common ground.
A post shared by Benjamin Simmons (@bensimmons) on Jun 24, 2017 at 8:57pm PDT
Committing to the recovery and development plans the Sixers mapped out for him, Simmons this past year gained a stronger sense for the value of consistently sticking to a routine.
“It taught me patience,” said Simmons, who reported Sunday he feels “great.”
“I had to be patient to get out there. Making sure my health was 100 percent was definitely a priority.”
Having to wait only a few months more, Simmons will soon have the chance to begin preparing in earnest for his first full NBA campaign. His hopes for 2017-2018 are that the Sixers compete, while avoiding injuries.
“We got a lot of young talent,” he said. “I think it just takes time now.”