BEN Simmons continues to capture the attention of NBA royalty. Kobe Bryant says Aussie fans are right to be going nuts.
BEN Simmons had a triple double on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers despite missing more mid-range jump shots during his warm-up than you’re likely to ever see by a professional basketballer.
He had 14 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in a wildly-entertaining 121-110 win despite going missing for long periods in the game.
He became just the second player in NBA history to post two triple doubles in his first nine games despite turning the ball over five times, getting called for two charges and missing eight of his 13 field goal attempts.
If ever anyone has played the game Ice Cube raps about in It Was A Good Day it was Simmons against the Pacers. He truly “f***ed around and got a triple double.”
Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd recently described his own burgeoning superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo as a plane that was ascending but had only reached 10,000 feet.
Well, Simmons can still see the runway in his rear-view mirror and he’s already reaching heights only Oscar Robertson has climbed.
“It’s just amazing to me, there’s nothing else I can really say about it,” Simmons said, when notified of his latest feat.
“It’s an honour to be there.”
KOBE: ‘HE’S A PHENOMENAL PLAYER’
It’s performances like Saturday’s that have seen Simmons capture the attention of NBA royalty, including Kobe Bryant who told news.com.au Australian fans should be buzzing about the talent they have on their hands.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Bryant said in New York this week. “He’s just getting started too.”
Simmons has been forced to get use to such lofty praise in the past few weeks as everyone from Dominique Wilkins to LeBron James have heralded his game.
But getting the tick of approval from Bryant meant a lot to the 20-year-old from Melbourne, when news.com.au passed on the message in the locker room before he took on Indiana.
“From Kobe, that’s awesome to hear,” Simmons said. “From one of the greatest to ever play the game, that means a lot. But I got a long way to go so I’ll stay in the gym.”
The Simmons camp is starting to get word of the groundswell of support building for him Down Under too. It’s not quite at the same level as Jarryd Hayne experienced during his time with the San Francisco 49ers yet, but Simmons has only just begun and this journey will likely last 10-15 years.
“Now he’s getting triple doubles it’s buzzing here so I can only imagine what it’s like there,” his father, former NBL player Dave Simmons, told news.com.au after the siren.
“I definitely know I get a lot of support from Australia,” added Ben. “When I’m playing I’m really playing for me, my family, my team and Australia. So that means a lot. And I’ve always really played that way.”
Simmons confirmed he was targeting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, a tantalising prospect for a Boomers program which finished fourth in Rio last year.
But first he’s determined to reignite basketball in Philly — and the City of Brotherly Love is falling fast.
SPEEDING UP THE PROCESS
AFTER crapping the bed for years, the 76ers moved in to positive territory for the first time since 2013 by pushing their record to 5-4.
Once barren stands are now full to the brim as the Sixers climb to second in the NBA for average home attendance. “The vibe you’re going to see tonight is completely different to what it was two years ago,” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s 76ers beat writer Keith Pompey told news.com.au pre-game.
“And Ben’s dominating. You go back and look at him on film and think, ‘wow, he just makes everything look so easy’. Don’t get me wrong, he still has to improve his jump shot. But right now he’s close to averaging a triple double — that’s Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson stuff.”
Simmons can’t take all the credit. Joel Embiid is still considered by most to be the most talented player on the team, JJ Reddick has added veteran leadership and shooting and the likes of Robert Covington and Dario Saric are playing key roles. But Philly wouldn’t be winning without him.
“Before it was Joel Embiid’s team, now it’s Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ team,” Pompey said.
‘HE JUST FINDS HIS WAY THROUGH A GAME’
SIMMONS opened Saturday’s game by exposing undersized opposition guards Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison in the post.
The first three entry passes he caught resulted in a nasty dunk, a dish to Saric for a three and a missed hook shot. By the time the Pacers first called timeout with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter he already had two points, four assists and four rebounds.
Early in the second quarter he got a taste of what it’s like to deal with serial pest Lance Stephenson. The man famous for blowing in LeBron James’ ear worked his hand inside Simmons’ singlet as they battled for position under the basket and as the Aussie jumped for the ball his jersey was torn to bits. The frustration continued as Simmons’ shots failed to fall and he finished the half with just two points on 1/6 shooting.
Thaddeus Young provided a tougher defensive match-up but Simmons kept persisting in the third quarter and his third basket of the game — a right handed finish after a strong move inside — had his father on his feet in the stands for the first time in the game.
All of a sudden the ball was bouncing his way again, teammates were hitting shots and Simmons was well and truly on track for a triple double with eight points, eight assists and eight rebounds with four minutes remaining in the third.
“It’s crazy how he improves every night,” said Reddick, who was 8/12 from downtown. “It’s a testament to his feel, his poise — he has maturity beyond his years.”
Needing two assists to complete his stat line late in the final term he achieved it on back to back possessions as Covington and Reddick connected from long range. As a clip from Philly’s original favourite son, Rocky, played on the Jumbotron, Simmons raised his arms in triumph.
“He’s been trying to let the game come to him and not really force things. For a minute there I’m thinking ‘come on, let’s get going’ but as it turns out he’s very steady and he just finds his way through a game. I’m very proud of him,” Dave Simmons said.
Covington, who contributed five of his team’s 18 three-pointers, said Simmons made everyone’s life easier.
“Ben is very good with the ball, like I can barely even describe it,” Covington said. “He’s 6’10” and he sees what a lot of other point guards can’t see.”
Rarefied air, indeed.