Sixers preseason: Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor impress while Markelle Fultz struggles

The official start of the 2017-18 NBA season is inching closer.

But for the starved 76ers fan base, Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Memphis Grizzlies had been anxiously anticipated for quite a while. A crowd in excess of 18,000 packed the Wells Fargo Center even though they knew that Joel Embiid and Dario Saric would be held out.

Finally, the Sixers are beginning to resemble a basketball team.

The excitement is evident. There were even boos careening down against Kris Humphries. An interesting night for sure.

Yet it wasn’t perfect.

The final score never matters in preseason so forget about the 21-point loss to the Grizzlies.

Plenty of other storylines emerged so let’s look at three:

1. Ben Simmons has a chance to be special

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Simmons registered a game-high nine assists to go along with six points, seven rebounds and a block in 22 minutes. He looked comfortable on an NBA court after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Fast forward to later in the season and it will be easy to see why Simmons is so highly touted.

“Oh my god. I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale told reporters after the game. “That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. The way he moves with the ball, his ability to see the floor, the way he can get places on the floor, once he gets confidence in his shot where you really have to close out all the way to the three. Wow. He is a big-time talent.”

2. Markelle Fultz struggled throughout the game.

The top overall pick from this year’s draft had four points, three assists and two rebounds in 23 minutes and seemed to lack confidence in his shot. Remember that Fultz is still a teenager (19) and there will be a steep learning curve. It will take time though Sixers fans don’t want to hear about waiting any longer.

“It was kind of like I thought it was going to be, tough being a rookie, you might not get as many calls as you usually would,” Fultz said. “So just going out there, having fun and giving it my all and I thought I did a good job with that.”

3. Jahlil Okafor still has it

A slimmed-down Okafor was really aggressive with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and six rebounds off the bench. Okafor looked like a different player and his new level of fitness will certainly help. If Okafor can provide a contribution this season, it would be a major benefit.

“I thought Jahlil was good,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told the assembled media. “He came in. He had a bounce. He had the energy. He scored. I thought he was particularly good defensively. The combination of him being able to score like he did tonight and with his improved defense, he looks more nimble with his body. He looked like he moved more easily on the court.”

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