Grizzlies coach on Ben Simmons: 'One of those super freaks'

How does a team plan defensively for a guy like Ben Simmons?

“Any ideas? These guys are just getting taller and more talented and more skilled,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said Wednesday morning. “He’s one of those super freaks. But I think he’s hungry and he’s ready to show the league what he can do, and I’m rooting for the kid.”

When Simmons hits the court Wednesday night for his first game since his freshman year at LSU, he won’t be facing one of the NBA’s elite guards, but he will see a familiar face.

Veteran Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley will not play in the Sixers’ preseason opener Wednesday night. In his place, Wade Baldwin IV will start.

“We’re going to rest [Conley] tonight,” Fizdale said. “We just feel like especially with him and Marc [Gasol], we’re going to use the chunk of time in the middle of his preseason to take advantage of some good rest. … You know, they ain’t spring chickens no more. So we’re going to strategically pick our times where we can be smart about stuff.”

Baldwin, who was drafted 17th overall out of Vanderbilt in 2016 and spent most of last season in the D-League, remembers playing against Simmons in college. On Jan. 2, 2016, Simmons had 36 points and 14 rebounds in LSU’s 90-82 win over Vanderbilt, which was led by Baldwin with 17 points.

“He’s real competitive, and a hell of a player,” said Baldwin, who played high school ball at St. Joseph of Metuchen (N.J.). “It’ll be cool to go against him at the NBA level.”

Fizdale hopes Wednesday’s game can be a teaching moment for Baldwin but knows that going against Simmons will be a tall order — no pun intended. He said that he hates to see young guys miss time because of injury and that he has high hopes for Simmons.

“Any time these guys suffer stuff like that early on, you just want them to get that taste of the NBA. Just hopefully, he doesn’t kill us tonight,” Fizdale said.