The Sixers aren’t losers anymore. The bandwagon is overflowing. Multiple potential superstars line the roster. The team sold out its initial allotment of season tickets. The new world-class practice facility draws rave reviews from every player on the roster as camp kicks off. Legitimate NBA players are competing for minutes throughout the entire roster.
Gone are the days of fringe NBA players trying not to give away their shots. Gone are the brick-layers of yesteryear. Some vestiges of that era remain - here’s to Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell for kicking down their proverbial doors into the NBA - but most of the roster are well-established athletes or are high draft picks with the pedigree to be great someday. Also, Jahil Okafor is still around, but even he’s turned a new leaf.
It’s a new day, yes it is. And we’re going to celebrate it in our player previews, which will focus on the change in the air, the new faces, and the old faces in new era of Sixers basketball. We’ll compare and contrast the old and the new, though the writers here might change the format up day-by-day. Today's discussion centers around the OTHER number one pick, Ben Simmons, who finally strides into his first NBA game tonight.
It’s been 482 days since Ben Simmons was drafted by the Sixers. In that time the 2016 Summer Olympics came and went, the U.S. joined and then kinda-unjoined the Paris Climate Agreement, and Simmons played zero NBA games.
But 482 days ago Ben Simmons was the consensus number one pick for good reason. While playing for a terrible LSU team - where he failed to escape criticism for work ethic and academics - Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2 steals while shooting 56% from the floor. He was the only college player to put up numbers like that since at least 1993.
He was all set to enter last year’s season off of a hot Summer League as the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Then he got his foot stepped on. From there we embarked on the all too familiar injury recovery slow-dance the likes of which we hope to never see again. And now it’s the same story: Hot Summer League, hot pre-season, ROTY favorite. Just no foot-stepping.
Simmons isn’t without his flaws, namely attempting to score from anywhere outside of six feet. But his strength, speed, agility, court vision, and basically every. single. other. thing. he does should keep that from being too much of an issue. Worrying is a skill we’ve all mastered but how can you look at this and really be that worried? The last man we heard talked up this much before the season by Brett Brown and the team was ... well, it was Joel Embiid. We saw how that went.
Though he missed all of last year, Ben is free of the nagging health concerns that hang off of Embiid. He will need to work on his jumper. At the beginning of the season (and maybe even the whole year) he can do without, but it’s going to need to come around if he wants to reach his potentially generational ceiling. No matter how strong, fast, and skilled he is, defenders will sag off if he’s far away from the basket, and that will cut down on his opportunities to drive and find a free passing lane, making the rest of his game more difficult. In the pre-season, 55.3% of Simmons’ shots came from within 8 feet. None of the rest came from further out than 16 feet. But that’s a concern for another day.
We don’t know if he’s left-handed or right-handed (he’s right-handed). We don’t know if he’ll be able to shoot. We don’t know how far his defense will come along this season. But he’s already good, and he’ll only get better.
*If you combine the time between Joel Embiid’s draft and first game with the time between Simmons’ draft and first game, you get 1,430 days. To put that in context: 1,430 days before today is November 18, 2013. James Anderson played 41 minutes for the Sixers that day. 1,430 days from now is September 17, 2021. It’s a long time.