CAMDEN, N.J. — It appears Ben Simmons took the saying about having the weight of the world on your shoulders a tad literally.
The Sixers' No. 1 overall pick walked into the team's sparkling new training complex for media day sporting a much bigger frame than when his name was called on draft night.
"I'm a lot stronger. When I started getting ready for the draft I was about 217 [pounds] and now I'm around 250," Simmons said Monday.
When you're expected to be the centerpiece of an organization that managed just 10 wins a season ago, it helps to have that extra bulk to carry those expectations.
But Simmons isn’t just being looked at as a key to help change the franchise’s fortunes. He’s also being viewed as perhaps a once-in-a-generation talent after drawing several comparisons to LeBron James, who Simmons shares an agent with in Klutch Sports Group.
So how did the incoming rookie deal with being likened to four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion James? He went to work like someone trying to achieve those same goals.
“Just being around him and learning from his habits and what he does has just helped me overall,” Simmons said of working out with James and other NBA stars during the summer. “He’ll be one of the first guys in the gym every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is. He’s one of those guys who gets the work in and enjoys the rest of his day. Just learning from him I think I can take a lot from what he’s done. ... He’s done a lot for me. He’s helped me experience things I need to learn.
“They get in the gym and work. It’s one of those things where they don’t play around. They get straight to it. Obviously in the weight room too. LeBron loves the VersaClimber and they also brought two more in here. I’m starting to learn from what these guys do, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) also. They’re all doing the same thing, working out every day and getting ready.”
That type of work ethic will go a long way toward Simmons' earning the respect of his Sixers teammates. The group was already eager to get on the floor with him for training camp at Stockton University and get a firsthand look at the versatile forward, especially his prowess as a passer.
“The most exciting thing that I’ve seen was his passing ability,” Jahlil Okafor said of Simmons. “That’s going to help me out a lot. He’s selfless. Being with the summer league guys he was always about the team. I’ve always considered myself a good teammate and he’s a great one as well. I’m excited to work with him.”
“I think for anybody who likes to shoot or likes to score, whenever you can have a big man who is a really good ball handler, can make good decisions, has great vision, it’s always a great thing,” Gerald Henderson said. “If you can be aggressive on the offensive end you don’t always have to have the basketball to be able to be right there and score. You have somebody that can find you and really is thinking pass-first. I think it’ll be great, not only for us but just our offense in general.”
Considering the Sixers finished 29th in scoring a season ago, Simmons knows they will need him to be more than just a facilitator. The team needs consistent scoring from everyone on the court. And while the LSU product’s jump shot was questioned during his lone year in college, he believes he has worked hard to silence those doubts.
“I usually try to take what they give me. Obviously I’ve been working on my shot a lot with all the coaches,” Simmons said. “I can shoot the ball. I’m not really worried about that. Coming into training camp, it’s one of the things I’ve been working on since LSU.”
Simmons made it clear several times that he is confident in his offensive game and that the Sixers’ logjam in the frontcourt will work itself out on the floor. One thing he’s not so sure about: that he’s even in this position.
Despite dreaming about being in the NBA since he was a kid in Australia and being groomed to be the No. 1 overall pick for years, Simmons said it’s still a bit of a surprise to be at this point.
“I think it’s still surreal for me,” he said. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”