SALT LAKE CITY – Many things Ben Simmons did in his first NBA summer league game offered tantalizing glimpses of what makes the Sixers so excited about his potential.
From crisp ball-handling to perfectly executed passes, Simmons seemed at home in the Sixers' offense. A scoring play in the second quarter hammered this home. Simmons ripped down a rebound, pushed the ball up the court and fed a bounce pass to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. The French forward quickly turned it into a fastbreak layup.
That's the sort of court vision which just comes natural to Simmons.
"I just try to read each player and see what they're looking at and where they're going,” Simmons said. “I don't try to and force it. I play pretty quickly, but it kind of slows down once I'm looking at everybody."
Sixers fans will be forced to wait at least two more days to see what Simmons can do for a summer league encore. Simmons will not play on Tuesday, as a precautionary measure, after he exited with leg cramps midway through the fourth quarter in a 102-94 loss to the Celtics on Monday night (see Instant Replay).
Cramps afflicted both of his calves and finally forced Simmons to the bench with 4:19 left when he hit the floor after trying to drive to the rim. Simmons finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, five assists and just a single turnover in 24 minutes.
Simmons felt the muscles start cramping up earlier in the third quarter and downed extra fluids to try to correct the problem. The fluids did not eliminate the cramps and Sixers coach Billy Lange pulled the plug, not wanting to risk serious injury to the franchise's biggest star.
“We might have been able to put him back in but, on July 4th, we didn't need to create those fireworks,” Lange said, noting that the team has a long summer league schedule still ahead. “We said [on Sunday] that we were going to take it smart from here on out. He will not play tomorrow. We were going to space out the minutes to begin with, so this has nothing to do with tonight.”
Simmons blamed the long hiatus from basketball on the cramping issues. His last game before the Utah Jazz Summer League opener came back in Mid-March when Texas A&M eliminated LSU from the semifinals of the SEC men's basketball tournament.
Playing in altitude during his first time back on the court didn't help matters either. Simmons has worked hard in preparing for summer league play and isn't concerned about the cramps being an issue moving forward.
"It's been about four months since I played,” Simmons said. “That's the main reason. I haven't played in a while."
While he was on the court, Simmons left his fingerprints all over the offense. He struggled with his shot, going just 2 of 9 from the floor. But he made up for it by attacking the glass, dishing out tons of clean passes and drawing enough defensive attention to create easy shots for his teammates.
They made the most of those opportunities while Simmons was in the game. Five different players scored in double figures, led by 20 points from second-year forward Christian Wood.
Simmons already feels comfortable in the offense and is confident about this group's overall potential in summer league play.
"This is the second time we played together,” Simmons said. “We played in practice, but that's completely different. It just takes time. They're learning to play with me. I'm learning to play with them. I'm enjoying it.”
If his debut is an accurate forecast of things to come, Simmons may create plenty more reasons for his entire team to enjoy summer league basketball in 2016.