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Vegas Summer League: The Curious Case of Benjamin Simmons

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


The Golden State Warriors beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Tuesday’s Vegas Summer League game by a final score of 85-77.  It was a decent game, with frequent lead changes, some exciting plays for both teams, and quick game flow.I got to catch the game in person, documenting my thoughts, and recording the videos below.

For Golden State, Royce O’Neale and the undersized, but savvy, Keifer Sykes led the way with 16 points each.  Ognin Kuzmic scored 12 points (but looked too slow to make an NBA roster), and Vegas hometown hero, Patrick McKaw, pitched in 11 of his own, showing off excellent range and off-ball movement.

Philadelphia’s own UNLV product, forward Christian Wood, led the 76ers with 22 points, 5 boards, and 2 blocks.  Timothe Luwawu, Philly’s late first round pick, scored 8 points and showed flashes of a long-range jumper. He also had active hands defensively, collecting multiple steals, and may transition nicely into the sought after “3 and D” guy for Philly’s NBA squad.

Now to the fun part:

IMG_1998Ben Simmons is an NBA ready beast with incredible court vision and speed.
Ben Simmons can’t make a jumper from 3 feet, much less the 3 point line.
Ben Simmons is a lockdown defender who can’t be checked.
Ben Simmons is, for now, a crybaby who gets mouthy and pouts when his shot isn’t falling.

These were all opinions I held strongly during the two hours I watched rookie forward and number 1 overall pick Ben Simmons play basketball.  From the first minute, there was a unique vibe on the court whenever Simmons had the ball.  His size, his speed, and his on-court confidence were electrifying, and screamed “this is an actual NBA star” into the rafters of the Thomas and Mack Center. A quick search of my Twitter timeline captures the impression the rookie had on the crowd.

Benjamin Simmons is a grown ass man.

Simmons shined defensively, putting together several offensive possessions with phenomenal no look passes to cutting teammates for easy buckets. He was in total control of the game regardless of defensive scheme, or the double and even triple team attempts from Golden State.  He showed strong rebounding instincts and body control in the post, as seen in the video below, where he quickly establishes position for a rebound:


However, at the end of the first quarter, the score was close, despite Christian Wood playing extremely well and Simmons seeming to dominate on both sides of the ball.

How could this be? I started to doubt myself.

As the game dragged on, Simmons sat for a while and things slowed down. With the exception of some excellent 3 and D play from Luwawu, the game got boring.  The audience that was raging moments ago could have been mistaken for a sleep study.

Then Ben Simmons checked into the game, and the air rushed back into the room. The arena was lit. The ball moved quickly up and down the court. The laser beam passes, and thunderous dunks returned. I wanted to become a Ben Simmons stan. I mean, as a Lakers fan, I mourn the fact that the Lakers missed out on a player who can dominate games at this level, despite being such a young age.

But again the cracks began to show.  Simmons missed both mid range close range pull up shots, and whiffed on his floaters, too.  The audience fervor and Simmons chants started to die down. A fan to my right commented on the fact that it appeared Simmons was experimenting with his shot form and stroke as the game was progressing, continually unable to make the basketball go into the basket.  He was still running the offense through his assists and his put-backs, and he was still running the break with reckless abandon, embarrassing defenders with his handles: but he was not putting the ball in the basket.

Benjamin Simmons is a talented young man, but he needs some time to develop before he can really shine.

As his shot continued to find iron, his effort and dominant aura began to fade on both sides of the ball. In the video below, he gets caught flat-footed in a defensive rotation at the three point line and the ball-handler easily gets him into the air and blows by to the rim:


As the game wore on, Simmons frustrations made their way to the surface. Before a jump ball, Simmons grabby with a Golden State guard half his size. The referee caught the two jostling for position and pressed pause on the game to tell Simmons to simmer down:


Behavior like this makes Ben Simmons seem like a primadonna who acts like a child when he gets upset: it’s not a good look.

Ns9One thing is clear with Ben Simmons, and that is the fact that nothing is clear with Ben Simmons. Time will tell if he will grow up emotionally, learn to keep his poise and fix his broken jumper. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll be something like a bigger and badder Rajon Rondo – a fringe All-Star at least.

If he does get it figured out? Look out NBA this kid has the potential to become an absolute monster.

By Jeremiah Whitten

– follow @jerwhitten on Twitter and IG