Bryant’s high praise for Simmons
ON the day Ben Simmons' Philadelphia 76ers returned to the post-season for the first time in six seasons, the Australian star received a significant compliment from one of basketball's best.
Five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, now retired and collecting Grammy Awards, praised Simmons for making the game look 'slow motion'.
Bryant's rap came just hours before the 76ers dismantled the Bucks to lock in third position and book a round one playoff date with Miami.
Philadelphia's rise to the playoffs is one of world sport's most remarkable turnarounds when you consider the franchise had won a combined 56 matches prior to this season.
But thanks largely to the brilliance of Simmons, who finished his rookie regular season averaging 15.8PPG, 8.1RPG and 8.2APG, the Sixers are bound for success in the post-season.
Philadelphia are favourites to defeat the Heat, which would set up a round two battle against the winner of the Boston and Milwaukee match-up.
On the other side of the draw, reigning Eastern Conference champions Cleveland are expected to defeat Indiana.
The Cavs would then take on the winner of Toronto versus Washington. If results fall into place, Simmons' 76ers could end up playing LeBron James' Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The current King taking on the future King for a place in the NBA Finals would be a promoters dream guaranteed to have Australia glued to their screens.
Before then, the Sixers must defeat the Heat to progress.
According to Bryant, Philadelphia has every chance of success with Simmons at the helm.
"I think Ben played with a really great tempo," Bryant said.
"The time he's had to watch the game has helped slow down the game for him. "He's had a chance to really observe the NBA game and be around it, pick it apart.
"Now that he's playing, I think the game's in slow motion for him, which is different than most rookies. He's had a chance to view it a lot.
"From a game perspective, his size gives him a clear advantage, his speed.
"He also knows how to use it.
"He knows his spots on the floor, he knows his strengths and weaknesses. He does a great job getting there."
There is no denying Simmons' silky skills, but Bryant remains realistic about the rising Australian's need to progress his shooting game.
"At some point he's got to be able to shoot that ball," he said.
"Jason Kidd, when he came in the league, wasn't a great shooter, but he worked to the point where he became one of the best three-point shooters we've had in our league in history.
"That will be his next progression.
"That being said, even without that, he's been able to dominate and take that city of Philadelphia to a place where it hasn't been in a very long time."
Thankfully, Simmons won't be the only Australian to feature in the playoffs.
Boston may be without stars Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward due to injury, but the Celtics still have Australian big man Aron Baynes.
The Queensland-raised centre dropped a career-high 26 points in Wednesday's win over Brooklyn.
Watch for Baynes to play a crucial role for Boston in the post-season, starting with Milwaukee and Australian duo Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker
Dellavedova made a successful return from a right ankle injury in Wednesday's loss to Philadelphia, and will be relishing the chance to play against his Boomers teammate Baynes.
Over in the Western Conference, Aussie stars Joe Ingles and Dante Exum are vital cogs in a formidable Utah outfit.
Ingles has backed up his big-dollar payday to deliver a career-best season, while Exum is looking slick despite missing the majority of the season with a shoulder injury.
The Jazz will be hard to beat in their first-round match-up against Oklahoma City, even with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook on fire for the Thunder.
Finally, fan favourite Patty Mills will do his best to lead San Antonio in formidable round one series against defending champions, Golden State.