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NBA Draft: Ben Simmons goes No. 1 to Philadelphia 76ers

By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange
NBA Draft: Ben Simmons goes No. 1 to Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons. (Instagram/NBA)

NEW YORK -- The last time the Philadelphia 76ers had the top pick they found "The Answer." This time, the rebuilding franchise hopes they have a found a major solution to their problems.

Twenty years after using the top overall pick on Hall of Fame guard Allen Iverson, Philadelphia continued its rebuilding process by selecting LSU forward Ben Simmons with the top pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night at Barclays Center.

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"It honestly feels like all this pressure just has hopped off me," Simmons said. "Now I can relax, but now I know where I'm going to be."

Where Simmons is going is a city that has seen most of its pro teams struggle in recent years, especially the 76ers. Iverson helped the 76ers reach the 2001 NBA finals, but the team has gone beyond the second round twice since then. Philadelphia is a combined 47-199 since 2013 when a massive rebuilding process began under Sam Hinkie.

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Simmons is the fourth big man obtained by the Sixers in the lottery since 2013.

In 2013, Philadelphia traded Jrue Holliday to New Orleans for the rights to Nerlens Noel, who did not make his debut until the 2014-15 season because of a knee injury and has averaged 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

In 2014, the 76ers used the third pick to select Joel Embiid from Kansas. Embiid has yet to play because of various foot injuries.

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Last year, Philadelphia had the third pick. When the Minnesota Timberwolves used the top pick on Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor was selected. Okafor averaged 17.5 points in 53 games before missing the final month of the season with a knee injury.

"It feels amazing, honestly," Simmons said of being the top pick. "I can't even -- my legs were shaking when I was on stage. Anything you want to do, you can do. I've been wanting to do that since I was five, six, seven and I've finally accomplished that."

Simmons had been projected to reach the accomplishment of being the NBA's top pick even before he played a college game. In November, he played twice in Brooklyn and the games drew more than 50 scouts and executives.

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He has been on the radar for this year's draft since moving to the United States in 2013 to attend Florida's Montverde Academy.

Simmons did not work out with the 76ers until Tuesday. That session in front of new president of basketball operations and ownership convinced them to take the Australia native, whose father grew up in the Bronx before starting a 13-year professional career there.

In his lone season at LSU, Simmons averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds while posting 23 double-doubles, the most among players from major conference, while drawing raves for his ball-handling abilities.

"They know I can play the point forward position and I'm comfortable bringing the ball up," he said.

After Simmons, Duke forward Brandon Ingram was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with their first pick in the post Kobe Bryant era. The Lakers lost 61 games in Bryant's last season and Ingram joins a young core headed by point guard D'Angelo Russell and forward Julius Randle.

"You kind of feel pressure but it's a good pressure of course," Ingram said. "It gives you motivation and the potential to be someone like Kobe Bryant and some of the greats in the league."

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Ingram, who said he grew up a Kevin Durant fan, averaged 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in his lone season for Duke.

He made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts and increased his stock even further by scoring 69 points in three NCAA tournament games, including 24 in Duke's blowout loss to Oregon in the West regional semifinals.

Ingram became the fourth Duke to be selected with the second overall pick and it marked the third straight season a Blue Devil was selected in the top three. Ingram also was the third player the Lakers ever selected at No. 2 and before Russell last season, Los Angeles had not held the second pick since taking James Worthy in 1982.

Boston used the No. 3 pick on California forward Jaylen Brown. The Celtics had obtained the pick from Brooklyn in the 2013 Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade.

Boston was reportedly in serious talks with the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler. The Celtics also were discussing a trade with Philadelphia in the minutes leading up to the pick but decided to take Brown, who averaged 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in his lone collegiate season.

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"I didn't think Boston was going to pick me for some reason," Brown said. "I don't know. I was sitting there and I was nervous. Somebody texted me and was like 'didn't hear anything from Boston'

"They were obviously playing a joke on me but I was sweating it and I was nervous. But when they picked me, just a sigh of relief left me and I'm happy I'm here."

Brown was the first Cal player to be taken in the top three since Jason Kidd in 1994. He reached double figures in 27 games and was the third-most prolific freshman scorer in school history.

With the fourth pick, the Suns selected forward Dragan Bender (Croatia), who averaged 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in 25 games for Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv. He became the highest Croatian picked and it marked the second straight year a Croatian has been picked in the top five.

Bender has been nicknamed "The Croatian Sensation" and compared to New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis.

"We are coming from Europe and both seven-footers that can shoot from the outside and move the body," Bender said. "I guess that's the only things that are similar. But we're definitely different type of players."

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Minnesota had the fifth pick and used it on Providence guard Kris Dunn. Dunn was a two-time Big East Player of the year and defensive player of the year. He averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 assists as a junior last season while becoming the first Friar to register 1,000 points, 500 assists, 400 rebounds and 200 steals.

The Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since a run to the Western Conference finals in 2004, but Dunn joins an emerging core consisting of Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

"He (Towns) gave me a lot advice through the process," Dunn said. They're a young team, very gifted. They have a lot of great pieces and I'm just coming in ready to work."

The next two picks saw two of the best shooters in college basketball get selected.

New Orleans selected sixth and picked Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, who shot 50 percent last season.

Denver used the seventh pick it obtained from New York in the 2011 blockbuster for Carmelo Anthony and selected Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, a 41 percent 3-point shooter.

Sacramento made its 10th straight lottery pick and selected Washington forward Marquese Chriss. Chriss will reportedly be traded to Phoenix in a deal for the No. 13 and 28 picks.

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Toronto, coming off the best season in team history, used the ninth pick on Utah center Jakob Poeltl with a pick obtained from the New York Knicks in 2013 for Andrea Bargnani

Milwaukee rounded out the top 10 by taking forward Thon Maker, who was born in Sudan before escaping the country's civil war and for a Canadian Prep School.

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