WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ben Simmons finally made his long-awaited NBA regular-season debut against the Wizards in Washington on Wednesday night. And after his extended wait to wear the Philadelphia 76ers jersey in a meaningful game, he said he felt initially like he was in a video game.
"It felt like I was playing 2K, honestly," Simmons said postgame.
"Just looking at Joel Embiid out there with the lights on his jersey. I was like, 'man, I'm actually here.'"
Simmons was drafted with the first overall pick by the Sixers in the 2016 draft, but he missed the entire 2016-17 season while recovering from foot surgery to repair a Jones fracture. He suffered the injury on Sept. 30, 2016, less than a month before the start of the regular season. The Australian was originally expected to miss three months, but was eventually ruled out for the entire season.
Simmons has said he's at 100 percent now, and it showed against Washington. He displayed no signs of first-game jitters as he finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the 120-115 loss. He played with a seasoned poise, not forcing anything, letting the game come to him, and looking to set up teammates.
"I was using my size and speed to my advantage, and I think I did a good job at that," he said. "I could have done it a few more times, maybe we would have won, but we're gonna get there. It would have been better if we got the win, but it's the first game. We have many more to go."
Sixers coach Brett Brown was thoroughly impressed with Simmons' debut effort, pointing out that the Aussie had just one turnover in 35 minutes of playing time.
"How about Ben Simmons' first game in the NBA?" Brown said.
"Really, there were times he could have finished even more. I feel that his first game was really exceptional. Really, really exceptional. Physically, we all see what he is as an athlete, and I think that his growth path, his improvement scale, can be off the charts."
After dominating at the high school level, followed by his one-and-done season at LSU, there were doubters who were not yet convinced that Simmons' skills would translate to the world's best league; the Australian went a long way in silencing any negative talk with his showing against Washington.
Whether putting pressure on the defense, driving to the rim, getting in the paint, or finding open teammates whenever he could, Simmons put his all-around game on display. Teammate Robert Covington praised Simmons' nous for finding the open man in transition.
"That's where we see Ben doing a lot for us," Covington said. "He's finding the open guys in different transition situations. He has great vision. And being 6-foot-11 ... there's nobody in the league that has that besides LeBron [James]. Guys like Ben, they're rare."
Years of "trusting the process" is beginning to bear fruit for a young and exciting Philadelphia team, and Washington forward Kelly Oubre Jr. noticed a marked difference in the 76ers' play Wednesday compared with last season.
"They are not the same team they have been in years past," he said. "They are actually starting to become a great team."
A huge part of that improvement is the burgeoning chemistry between Simmons and his teammates -- in particular, Embiid -- and the Australian believes the best is yet to come.
"As a team we're getting there," he said. "It's exciting to see that. We didn't get the win, obviously, but I just know this team can be special. I'm looking forward to seeing how far we can get."