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Whatever questions surrounded Ben Simmons after his one year at LSU, nobody ever doubted the Australian playmaker’s talent. The big question, after a should-have-been rookie year scuttled by a foot injury, was how long it would take the 6-foot-10 point forward to start showing why the Philadelphia 76ers selected him with the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
Well, four games into the 2017-18 season, I think we’ve got our answer: No time flat.
Simmons looked great on Monday, continuing his scintillating start to the season by hanging 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists on the Detroit Pistons to help propel the Sixers to a 97-86 win. Four games into his NBA career, Ben Simmons has his first NBA triple-double.
If that sounds fast, it should: Simmons is the first player to notch a triple-double this early in his career in 50 years.
That’s right: Ben Simmons went out and gave us cause to remember the great Art “Hambone” Williams.
What a blessed evening in the Association.
Simmons attacked the Pistons with poise, patience and well-placed aggression, getting just about wherever he wanted on the floor. He took advantage of matchups against Detroit’s smaller defenders, using his handle to get into the lane and a soft touch to drop in floaters and half-hooks from close range. He used that combination of size and quickness to force his way into and through contact, generating six free throws and making five. He kept his head up on the break and working around screens. He drove and kicked and found trailers for open in-rhythm looks, and even orchestrated a wide-open corner 3 for point guard T.J. McConnell with the kind of on-a-rope cross-court pass we’ve come to expect from next-level playmakers like LeBron James, John Wall and James Harden.
In the fourth quarter, with the Sixers holding onto a slim lead after having frittered away most of a 21-point first-half advantage, Simmons acquitted himself well defensively when switched onto smaller Pistons guards. Midway through the frame, he tracked back in transition and deflected a hit-ahead pass intended for Detroit big man Andre Drummond that likely would’ve been a sure dunk to get the Pistons within four points midway through the frame. He picked up his 10th and final assist with a perfect arcing lob entry feed to Joel Embiid for an and-one layup that put the Sixers up 10 with 1:14 to go, icing Philly’s first win of the season.
Finally out of mothballs and moving around on a healthy wheel, Simmons is now averaging a shade under 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in 35 minutes per night — the kind of numbers only Oscar, Wilt and Westbrook have posted for a full season. He’s the first player since Shaquille O’Neal to post double-doubles in his first four NBA games. He’s the third player ever to rack up at least 60 points, 40 rebounds and 25 assists in his first four games, joining Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Maurice Stokes.
In his fourth game, on the road, after a year on the shelf, Simmons moved around the floor like it belonged to him. The only legitimate argument that he didn’t came from No. 21 on his own team.
Never bashful, Embiid doesn’t need any extra motivation to look for his own shot and try to annihilate an opposing defense. Having some doesn’t hurt, though, and the Cameroonian big man sure seemed to have a wild hair for Pistons center Andre Drummond, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Looking to get an edge, he watched game film of Drummond before the game.
“Defensively, he doesn’t play any defense,” Embiid said of what he saw. “When we started the game, he was being aggressive and he was talking, too. … So what I was like [in my mind] ‘You want to do that? I’m going to kick your [butt] then. So that’s what I did.”
And oh, man, did he. Embiid got on the board with a layup 32 seconds into the contest and barely stopped ramming the ball down Drummond and the Pistons’ throats whenever he was on the court, pouring in 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting in just 28 minutes of work.
He torched Drummond just about every way you can: hitting him with a spin, drop step and layup off the drive; drawing him out into deep water to drill a top-of-the-key 3-pointer off a behind-the-back pass from Simmons; roaring past him on a dive to throw down a dunk in the pick-and-roll; jab-stepping him into limbo before pulling back with a midrange J; pump-faking him into cement before blowing past him for an emphatic dunk.
You name it, Embiid did it to Drummond … and he let him know about it. More from Pompey:
“In my mind, I was like, ‘You want to switch up, because you are playing against me,’ ” he said of Drummond. ” ‘You want to be all physical and talk [trash].’ So I was like, ‘you are going to get our [butt beat].’ I love that.”
There was a lot for Sixers fans to love on Monday night, and absolutely all of it started with their franchise focal points: Simmons the table-setter, Embiid the finisher, working in tandem to tenderize an opposing defense and quiet a hometown crowd. There’s plenty for a 1-3 Philly side to figure out; 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, most notably, continues to look haunted to start his pro career. But Embiid delivered the kind of productivity that reminds you why he got the max. Simmons showcased the do-everything game that earned him comparisons to all-time greats before he ever set foot on an NBA floor. And together, they flashed the kind of high-low and pick-and-pop chemistry that makes you think this is just the beginning of the havoc they can wreak on opposing defenses.
“I want to go in and make sure everybody remembers my name,” Simmons told B/R Mag’s Yaron Weitzman this summer. “I want to get out there and play where everyone’s talking about me.”
We’ve got a ways to go yet, rook, but notching your first triple-double while also setting up “The Process” for a too-easy 30 sure ain’t a bad start.
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