LAS VEGAS — The passes are dazzling, and even as the basketball world began to dissect Ben Simmons late in his freshman season at LSU, nobody ever questioned those.
The Philadelphia 76ers rookie has been up to his old tricks this week at the NBA summer league, drawing oohs and ahs with his dishes for swishes. So pinpoint were his passes Saturday night that one reporter wondered how Simmons is able to see passing lanes that other players seem to miss.
“With my eyes,” Simmons said matter-of-factly. “Obviously I just try to make the right play, and I try to see it before it happens.”
Sometimes, it seems like he does.
Sometimes Simmons — who had eight points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in Saturday’s 70-69 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers — really does look a step ahead of everyone else on the floor.
But he’s a rookie. And so sometimes, he is well behind.
Against the Lakers — a much-anticipated matchup that pitted Simmons, the No. 1 pick in last month’s NBA draft, against L.A.’s Brandon Ingram, selected second — there were times when Simmons seemed reluctant to shoot.
He was 3-for-8 from the floor, which included a missed point-blank layup. He missed two of his three jump shots.
Simmons’ ability and willingness to control a game as a scorer often were called into question at LSU. His offensive aggressiveness has been a talking point early in his NBA career as well.
At 6-foot-10, Simmons is tall enough to see potential passing targets even as defenses sag off him. That can make him an effective offensive weapon even when he’s declining a defense’s dare to shoot.
Still, he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. The assumption is that ultimately he’ll provide some scoring, and Simmons has been made aware that he needs to be aggressive offensively.
“I think I did a little bit better (against the Lakers),” he said. “Obviously I’ve got to do much better than (Saturday night).”
Still, the Sixers aren’t obsessing about his points.
He’s a rookie. And like all rookies, he has improving to do all over the floor.
“Everyone knows he’s a special talent offensively,” said Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, the team’s summer league coach. “I want him to lock into the defensive end of the floor, stay engaged on both sides. I think that’s where it starts. I don’t want to make too much about his offense or his shots or anything like that. I want him to be a complete player.”
Simmons wants the same. For him, it starts with playmaking. He said he “definitely” can play a point guard or point forward position, and he frequently was Philadelphia’s primary ballhandler Saturday.
Someday he might need to shoot more.
For now, Simmons’ passing remains the eye-popping part of his game that Philadelphia has no intent to change.
“I think he needs to make the right basketball play,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot said about a guy that’s got a lot of talent and is an unselfish player. Sometimes when you’re unselfish, people think you’re not attacking or you don’t want to shoot. He’s just trying to make the right basketball play, and I think he’s always going to look to do that.”