On the Ben Simmons Bandwagon Yet?

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, the top two picks of the 2016 Draft squared off in a Summer League preview of the league’s future.  The Lakers would defeat the Sixers 70-69 on a D’Angelo Russell buzzer-beater, but the main attractions were Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.

ESPN cameras were following Simmons constantly, to the point that the first overall selection was featured even when he sat on the bench.  Ingram got his share of attention as well, especially from the largely pro-Lakers crowd eager to get a glimpse of a potential franchise player.  It was a surprise to everyone when the duo combined for just 4 points in the opening half, but Simmons emerged with the stronger game.

Summer League is often characterized by haphazard play, but Ingram looked uncomfortable against Philadelphia, especially when the Sixers opted for a double team.  Ingram needs to look for teammates sooner if opponents choose to surround him.  Instead, he forced a few shots and was goaded into several mistakes.  I still believe in his range: despite going 3-12 from the field, Ingram swished two shots near the end including a long two-point attempt.  He also showed a quick first step in offensive sets.  It still wasn’t the game you hope to see from the second pick in the draft.

Ingram admitted to some nervousness: “You try to get the jitters out and you try to play the game.”

Ingram played respectably against weaker competition on Friday against the Pelicans.  In all, he scored 12 on 5-9 shooting with 4 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.  Perhaps most impressive was his drive to the hoop for a layup past a surprised Cheick Diallo.  Another highlight reel play was his block of David Lighty, Jr.  Things certainly went less smoothly against Philadelphia.  He faced a quality Sixer defender in Jerami Grant, the nephew of former Bulls forward Horace Grant.  The bigger but still nimble Simmons also gave him some trouble as he looked for a path to the basket.  Ingram usually excels off the dribble, but Grant’s ball pressure took away that element of his game.  Ingram grabbed just 4 rebounds on the night, as well.

One game isn’t reason to panic, though.  Even Kristaps Porzingis had a rough outing against Golden State in last year’s Summer League.

For his part, Simmons showed plenty of talent but also committed 7 turnovers against the Lakers.  Simmons was a major playmaker nonetheless, handling the ball quite a bit for a big man and finding open men to the tune of 8 assists.  His creativity with the ball is evident, although he’ll need a more aggressive approach to keep defenders honest.  Even given plenty of room, Simmons often refused to shoot.  That wasn’t such a problem during his time at LSU, so I’m not overly worried about him in the long run.  Despite finishing with 8 points on 8 shots, Simmons came close to a triple double thanks to the assists and 10 boards.

Simmons took a low-key approach following the game: “Got a few more games to go and looking forward to learning from my mistakes.”

Simmons was just 7-25 from the field through Saturday’s contest, but his passing and court vision should have Sixers fans excited for real games.  He had a better showing against Chicago on Sunday, scoring 18 points.

One of my favorite plays on Saturday was a Simmons dribble move into the paint followed by a quick turnaround jumper for the bucket.  Some point guards like to play a back-to-the-basket game on occasion, but Simmons made it look seamless.  It was as if he transformed from a ball handler into a power forward in a split second.  If he can make passes and score inside, it does take some of the pressure off of a midrange game that requires polish.

Simmons also bounced back from a missed layup by stealing the ball and finding Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for a basket in transition.  Furthermore, Simmons looks like a capable defender.  I liked what I saw from him in the Utah game on Thursday, especially when he coaxed an air ball from Trey Lyles on the game’s first possession.

Simmons and Ingram should be cornerstone players in the future, but they both will experience growing pains as they adapt to the highest level of competition.  So far, Simmons looks like a surprisingly effective point guard with a 6’10” frame who needs more confidence in his stroke.  His passes can be brilliant, but head coach Brett Brown will want to see fewer turnovers in the future.

Meanwhile, Ingram has a tremendous wingspan and projects as a sharpshooter who can also get to the hoop.  However, he requires more strength and quicker decision making in order to succeed.  Simmons has created open shots for his teammates while Ingram’s offensive game has lacked consistency.  Neither player has dominated in Summer League, but Simmons looks a bit readier to contribute so far.


photo via llananba