Ben Simmons looks better than his Rookie of the Year season and the Philadelphia 76ers are "definitely" in the hunt for the NBA Finals, according to former Chicago Bulls star and three-time champion Luc Longley.
Simmons and the 76ers announced themselves in 2017-18 as Brett Brown's highly rated young team reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals following years of pain.
After sitting out a year due to a foot injury, Simmons – the number one pick in 2016 – averaged 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds during the regular season, while averaging 16.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.7 assists in Philadelphia's first playoff campaign since 2011-12.
Simmons has continued where he left off this season with a triple-double and double-double to his name already, and fellow Australian Longley – who was part of the Bulls' three-peat alongside Michael Jordan between 1996-98 – heaped praise on the 22-year-old.
"Simmons delivered on a lot of his promise [last season]," Longley said in an interview with Omnisport. "Then had some great playoff experience against Boston. Knowing his competitive spirit, that would've driven him mad [losing that series].
"I watched every 76ers game I could get my hand on, just like half of Australia and the world, not because of [Joel] Embiid who is great but because of Simmons and how exciting he is to watch.
"This season, he looks better. He looks very focused defensively and we're only early into the season. That excites me. He talks about wanting to be an All-NBA defender. Lots of guys have breakout years in their careers and it looks like he is putting pedal to the metal now after a breakout year."
With Markelle Fultz – the top pick in 2017 – hampered by injury and form last season, Simmons was Philadelphia's primary point guard to great effect.
Fultz, however, is back this season and in the 76ers' starting line-up, though Longley does not believe it will impact Simmons.
"That's the great thing about Ben, he is so versatile," Longley said. "Having great players around him, will only make him better.
"People have talked about worrying about whether he doesn’t have the ball as much or take away his shot but I don't think matters to him. I've heard Ben talk about being a player, not a position. That team is built that way. If Fultz can find his groove, that will work in Ben's favour in Philadelphia."
With Simmons, Fultz and All-Star Joel Embiid at the core of Philadelphia's plans, 76ers head coach Brown has made no secret of his desire to feature in the NBA Finals.
The 76ers were flying high last season before they were stopped in their tracks by Eastern Conference rivals the Celtics, who won the series 4-1.
Asked about Brown and Philadelphia's ambitions, Longley added: "They're definitely in the Finals mix. I think Boston and themselves are the best teams in the east. That's one team away from the Finals.
"They have a lot of work to do. It's fun to watch a young team like that figure out how to be consistent and we watched it last year. They figured it out last season. They got the acid test in the playoffs and they were found wanting a bit.
"Watching a young team take that lesson on the nose and figure out how to get better and apply it through an 82-game grind and get to the playoffs in the right shape then beat someone like Boston.
"That's just a fantastic storyline they're writing for themselves. There's no reasons why they can't do that. There's a lot that has to go right. It's different to let's say the [Golden State] Warriors, who have done it three times and trying to stay stimulated. Philadelphia are a highly stimulated team which makes them stimulating to watch."
|Williamson steadies Black Caps after Boult heroics|
|Griezmann targets swift French response against Uruguay|
|Havertz´s future lies with Bayer Leverkusen – sporting director Boldt|
|Socceroos boss Arnold excited for future|
|South Africa triumph on Gold Coast in truncated T20 clash|
|Germany without Draxler for Netherlands game|
|Barcelona confirm Rakitic hamstring injury|
|Rain halts England´s post-tea flourish|
|Australia 1 South Korea 1: Luongo seals late draw for Socceroos|
|Irving thrives on ´peace´ of being in the zone|
|Lloris admits France could have lost by more|
|Dybala impressed by Argentina´s improved spirit|
|Arsenal chief confirms Super League talks|
|Hooker knocks out Saucedo to retain WBO strap|
|NBA wrap: Kyrie Irving sizzles as Celtics beat Raptors in overtime|
|Jimmy Butler aims dig at Timberwolves following 76ers home debut|
|Koeman surprised by dominant Netherlands|
|Southgate rallies England ahead of Nations League decider|
|Chile 2 Costa Rica 3: Waston brace sinks La Roja|
|Tite inspired by Guardiola´s City|
|Argentina 2 Mexico 0: Funes Mori´s header helps to sink El Tri|
|Lovren ready for ´fiery´ England clash|
|Brazil captain Neymar pleased with stern Uruguay test|
|Ravens´ Flacco doubtful, Jackson could start|
|Richarlison: I want to be at the Copa America|
|Tabarez buoyed by inexperienced Uruguay|
|Howell fires 64 again to extend RSM Classic lead|
|I´m proud of them - Giggs still upbeat despite Denmark defeat|
|Mancini ´very sorry´ for Ronaldo absence|
|Neymar clinches anything-but-friendly win for Brazil over Uruguay|
|Cipriani-inspired Gloucester thrash Tigers|
|Djokovic makes it three wins from three at ATP Finals|
|Germany relegated from Nations League top tier to cap miserable 2018|
|Fulham will back Ranieri in January transfer window if required|
|Brazil 1 Uruguay 0: Neymar penalty settles tight contest|
|Netherlands 2 France 0: Wijnaldum & Depay decisive as Germany are relegated|
|Wales 1 Denmark 2: Jorgensen and Braithwaite seal Nations League promotion|
|Oxlade-Chamberlain targeting early return|
|New Zealand-born Aki will ´relish´ facing All Blacks – Marmion|
|Portugal cannot focus on absent Ronaldo - Santos|
|Ramsey reiterates he wants to stay with Jaguars despite cryptic tweet|
|We tried to hit a home run and it didn´t work out - D´Antoni explains Carmelo exit|
|West Ham´s Zabaleta backs Premier League´s VAR introduction|
|Southgate eyes winning end to England´s ´brilliant year´|
|Patient Zverev seizes opportunity to make amends at ATP Finals|
|Rodgers: Packers still believe they can make playoffs|
|Mahomes hoping to ketchup to Heinz´s touchdown target|
|Ranieri tells Fulham fans not to expect repeat of Leicester ´fairytale´|
|Brown to leave role as RFU chief executive|
|Croatia star Rakitic ruled out of England clash|
|Capital gains for Zverev as he secures last-four spot in London|
|Sancho rise continues with Player of the Month award|
|Jones-Buchanan, Ablett and Briscoe sign new Rhinos deals|
|Root leads from the front as aggressive England assume control|
|Croatia´s Lovren antagonises Ramos and ´rude´ Spain|
|Rakitic has ´enormous respect´ for England ahead of Nations League decider|
|Ireland make flanker switch with Leavy out of All Blacks clash|
|Pakistan rip through Black Caps in Abu Dhabi|
|WATCH: Barcelona mark 15-year anniversary of Messi´s first match|
|Sterling, that you? - Walker uses falling fan to poke fun at England team-mate|
|Fleetwood applies pressure on Molinari, Wallace leads in Dubai|
|Don´t talk to me about VAR – Rakitic not over World Cup final loss|
|Van Dijk leadership essential for Liverpool – Wijnaldum|
|Dalic: Croatia´s bench was ready to stop Spain!|
|Sublime Root century gives England imposing lead|
|Vinicius appreciates Solari influence at Real Madrid|
|Havertz would suit Bayern Munich – Kimmich|
|Wilder: Roach recruitment a sign of Fury nerves|
|Ranieri targets defensive improvements at failing Fulham|
|PSG close investigation into player recruitment practices after finding no discrimination|