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Rockets coach Ime Udoka sees parallels in Amen Thompson, early career Ben Simmons

It’s become easy to forget, but prior to missing extensive time with back injuries and mental health issues in recent years, Ben Simmons was a three-time All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Even though Simmons was never a reliable outside shooter, his rare combination of size, athleticism, passing, and defensive versatility made him a valuable point guard with the Sixers. He also learned to provide some value as an off-ball cutter and offensive rebounder when playing alongside superstar big man Joel Embiid.

Arguably Simmons’ best year came in 2019-20, when he averaged 16.4 points (58.0% FG), 8.0 assists, 7.8 rebounds, and an NBA-leading 2.1 steals per game. One of Philadelphia’s assistant coaches that season was Ime Udoka, now head coach of the Rockets.

In Houston, Udoka now has a 6-foot-7 athletic specimen in rookie guard Amen Thompson — who also happens to have a questionable jump shot, at least according to pre-draft scouting reports.

While Thompson hopes to improve his shooting as the years progress, the pre-injury version of Simmons is a reminder that there is a path to making a big impact, even with a below-average jumper.

At Tuesday’s practice, Udoka outlined some similarities that he sees between Thompson and Simmons, his former player.

Among his comments (via Chancellor Johnson of KPRC Houston):

The skillset is there, and it’s something that’s unique with his speed, athleticism, size, passing ability, and all those things.

I coached somebody, Ben Simmons, who had similar traits… as far as size and ability to push the pace, and find guys and finish. There are some similarities there, as far as that

We’re finding different ways to use him. When he doesn’t have the ball, it’s not his comfort zone. When you’re out there with Fred [VanVleet], Jalen [Green], or different lineups, you’re going to have to play off the ball, at times. He’s finding ways to slash behind, get on the glass, and make plays on the second side.

It’s all experience, for him. A guy that’s had the ball his whole career, to be able to play off the ball, it will impact our team in a more positive way.

Thompson is coming off career-highs of 15 points and 14 rebounds in Houston’s last game on Sunday night versus Boston. The 20-year-old, drafted No. 4 overall in the 2023 first round, also had 5 assists in a game the short-handed Rockets made much closer than expected.

In the previous game, Thompson had a game-saving block in the closing moments of overtime as Houston held off Utah to secure what could be an important victory for its 2023-24 playoff push.

Thompson and the Rockets (20-22) will look to build on that on Wednesday night versus Portland (12-30). Tipoff in Houston’s finale of a three-game homestand is set for 7:00 p.m. Central.

For Thompson, it could mean minutes facing rival point guard Scoot Henderson, who was drafted by the Trail Blazers just one spot ahead of where Houston picked Thompson last June.

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire