By Kareem Copeland
AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY — Ben Simmons showed why he was the No. 1 overall pick by the downtrodden Philadelphia 76ers during his first two games in the Utah Jazz Summer League. It was also clear the former LSU star has plenty of room to grow.
Simmons enters the NBA with elite-level vision and passing ability already. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons also has the ball-handling skills of a point guard, which gives him the ability to grab a rebound, push the ball and make plays in transition. There were several highlight-worthy passes during the week, but his best play may have come Thursday against the Jazz.
Simmons grabbed a rebound and immediately took off. He spun around a defender before reaching half court, then crossed over between two more Jazz players as he dribbled into the front court. Simmons finished the play with a bullet pass between another pair of defenders for a Richaun Holmes layup attempt. Few players with that size have that combination of athleticism with that skill-set.
“He finds great joy in getting guys shots,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “He just finds awesome joy and enthusiasm in sharing the basketball and that becomes contagious.”
Comparisons to Magic Johnson and LeBron James are unfair, but the passing ability is reminiscent. Teammates had to learn to play with Johnson and James — to be ready to catch and finish passes despite a seemingly closed passing lane. The 76ers will have to do the same.
“They’re finding ways to figure out how to play with him,” 76ers Summer League coach Billy Lange said.
Simmons had six points, seven rebounds and six assists in an 86-75 victory over the Jazz on Thursday. In a 102-94 loss to the Celtics on Monday, he had 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists before leaving the game with cramps in both calves. Several assists were left on the table between the two games as teammates failed to capitalize.
Simmons also improved defensively from the first to second game.
“I let the game come to me,” Simmons said Thursday night. “Obviously, I threw a lot of assists. That was what they were giving me and I took it.”
The biggest knock on Simmons coming out of college was his lack of a consistent jump shot. The reason for the criticism was apparent in his first two games.
Simmons made just four of 17 attempts in Salt Lake City and defenders will play off until he proves he can make a midrange jumper. At one point, Jazz center Tibor Pleiss guarded Simmons and the Jazz bench could be heard yelling for Pleiss to back up. Simmons then pulled up and missed a wide-open jump shot.
Simmons can also get lost on the offensive end without the ball in his hands. He tended to drift and watch the play when not in control of the offense.
Anticipation is high for Saturday when the 76ers face the Los Angeles Lakers and No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram in the Las Vegas phase of the Summer League. Some believed Ingram’s well-developed scoring ability and 3-point range merited the No. 1 pick.
Simmons said he doesn’t compare himself to other rookies and is focused on players like James and Kevin Durant instead. But he understands the attention that comes with being a heralded rookie.
“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.”