Ben Simmons has gift of vision, passing; also a long way to go to fulfill potential

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LAS VEGAS — When Ben Simmons got the ball in his hands and started to drive, there was a palpable rise in excitement inside the Thomas & Mack Arena Tuesday night. Fans leaned forward in their seats. When he’d make a pass, there were “oohs” and “ahs” of anticipation.

Which were usually followed by a missed shot from a Sixers a teammate. Simmons had six assists Tuesday night in a Philadelphia loss to Golden State, but he could have easily had another half dozen.

What matters right now you can feel the excitement the No. 1 pick brings to the court. His passing skills and court vision are better than advertised — and that was seen as the strength that set him apart. Sixers fans are going to love watching him play.

But he’s also got a long way to go to fulfill that promise. He was called a bit of a project at the draft, and that assessment is correct, too.

Through five Summer League games in Utah and Las Vegas, he is shooting 37 percent from the floor. He doesn’t have counters to his go-to moves, ones better defenders will take away once real NBA defenders are on him. He hasn’t attempted a three. You can see the potential on defense with his length, but he has a lot of learning to do on that and as well.

Philly management — more than the fan base — may be tired of waiting around for wins, but patience is the order of the day with Simmons.

“There’s no immediate fix planned for anything with a player who is 19,” Sixers Summer League coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He’s still growing into his game and now he’s jumping into the NBA where he’s got to learn a whole new set of players and tendencies, how defenses are playing him. We’re just trying to get him out there, see what he can do. We want to see how the players play with him, we want to see how he plays with the other guys. And that’s not something that is going to happen right away.”

Simmons has the gift of vision that only a few players — LeBron James, Ricky Rubio, etc. — have with their passing. It led fellow draftee Denzel Valentine to compare him to a mini-LeBron. Which is unfair, but welcome to being a No. 1 pick.

“I play like Ben Simmons,” he said. “I try not to compare myself to other players. There are guys I look at and try to take parts of their games into mine.”

His strength right now is in the open court.

“Transition, I’m a point forward, so if someone can get me the ball I can set plays up,” Simmons said…

“Whatever they give me I take,” Simmons said. “Every time I’m out there I try to contribute, whether it’s passing, scoring.”

Simmons admitted hitting a bit of a wall, getting tired and losing a little offensive focus in the fifth game Tuesday night. It’s pretty common at this point in Summer League — and coaches across the board are quick to point out it’s not going to get easier. Players, including Simmons, have to push through it.

“He’s a special talent, a phenomenal player, he can pass the ball, he can attack in transition, so we want him to stay aggressive,” Pierce said. “We want him to continue to flourish with the things he already does. And he’s done that.

“Sustainability, to do that for 48 minutes, for 82 games, is going to be a challenge. We want to see him bring it every night because a lot of people will be expecting him to do so.”