WASHINGTON — Ben Simmons stood in front of his locker surrounded by media, his debut as a professional player in the books, having helped the 76ers nearly upset the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Simmons announced himself to the NBA world with 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block and a turnover. It was a solid debut for the 2016 first overall pick, who missed last season with a Jones fracture in his right foot.
He had a little smile on his face while speaking about the biggest game of his basketball career to date.
“It felt like I was playing [NBA]2K, honestly,” Simmons said. “Just looking at [Joel] Embiid out there with lights on his jersey, I was like ‘Man, I’m actually here.’
“It’s fun. I’m enjoying it. Lot of games left.”
The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder showed he can indeed play point guard in the NBA. He was quick in transition and displayed solid court vision in setting up teammates. The 21-year-old Australian was also tough to stop while attacking the rim. All of his field goals came inside the paint.
And even though this was a long-awaited debut, Simmons was far from nervous. He played with the confidence and calmness of an eight-year veteran.
“It was just normal,” he said of the game. “I’ve been doing this my whole life. It’s just better players now and better competition.”
But while it’s just one game, Simmons showed why he’s a leading candidate for rookie of the year. His performance also showed why he’s expected to become one of the league’s elite players.
He’s too big for opposing point guards to defend and a matchup problem for post players. Simmons played at his own pace and didn’t force anything.
“I feel that his first game was really exceptional — really, really exceptional,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “Physically, we all see what he is as an athlete, and I think that his growth path, his improvement scale, I think it can be off the charts.”