Ben Simmons brings LeBron-like buzz to much-maligned Sixers

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LAS VEGAS — There are two issues with “Mini-LeBron,” Denzel Valentine‘s first stab at a nickname for Philadelphia 76ers wunderkind Ben Simmons:

1. He’s two inches taller than James, his Klutch Sports “big bro.”

2. Eric Bledsoe has dibs.

Otherwise, Simmons, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, seemed rather indifferent about any alias or comparison you could throw at him, even those that place him in rarefied air.

“I play like Ben Simmons,” he said after the Sixers’ 85-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors. “I try not to compare myself to other players. There are guys where I try to take parts of their games and put ’em to mine. So … it happens.”

When you watch Simmons, 19, in the loose environs of the summer league, “it” happens often.

There’s the preternatural vision that allows him to make dazzling passes, in transition and in a set offense, look routine. There’s the stone-faced bravado that makes it seem like he’s in complete control of everyone on every offensive possession. There’s the way he fills up the box score, which against the Warriors led to 8 points, 8 rebounds, 7 fouls, 6 assists and 5 turnovers. There’s the already-muscular physique that will jolt back any defender looking to take a charge, like an offensive lineman’s pancake block. There are even the LeBron-branded shoes on his feet, which Simmons has worn since his abbreviated tenure at LSU.

Even his responses to questions about his shooting struggles have a Jamesian ring to them.

“I just try to make the right plays,” said Simmons, who shot 3-for-8 on Tuesday, elevating him to 37 percent from the floor in five games between the Las Vegas and Utah Summer Leagues. “Whatever they give me I take. Every time I’m out there I’m trying to contribute, whether it’s possible, [in] scoring or defensively.”

More than anything, there’s the attention he draws, from players and fans alike, every time he’s on the court. Simmons is an event unto himself, and considering how off-putting the product has been in Philadelphia of late — the Sixers had the fourth-biggest ratings growth among local NBA TV ratings last season, according to a Sports Business Journal report, yet still ranked fifth-to-last in average rating despite playing in the fourth-biggest media market — he’ll almost certainly make a LeBron-like impact, if only in general interest.

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

“The sustainability to do it for 48 minutes, for 82 games will be a challenge. So we want to see if he can continue to bring it every night, because a lot of people will be looking to him to do so.”

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