Yes, Ben Simmons has donned a Brooklyn Nets jersey four times during the preseason, but Wednesday’s season opener at Barclays Center marked the first time it really counts. It felt like a long time coming after injury kept Simmons out of the lineup last year after the Nets acquired him in a deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia at the trade deadline.
The bout with the New Orleans Pelicans marked the first time that Simmons appeared in a game that mattered since Game 7 on June 20, 2021, when he was still with Philly. A lot has changed around the league since then and naturally, the nerves were there.
Kevin Durant had told Simmons earlier in the week that it would be a natural reaction.
“He was just telling me you’re supposed to feel that. If you aren’t feeling that there’s something wrong,” Simmons said before the game during Shootaround on Wednesday. “But I feel excited. I’m ready to go. I can’t wait to get out there. It’s just what I do. I love to do it and I can’t imagine doing anything else, so I’m excited.”
So much of the focus on heading into training camp and during the exhibition calendar had been around what Simmons would show up in Brooklyn. Simmons had been healthy since having offseason back surgery and appeared in all four of Brooklyn’s preseason games.
He averaged 21.1 minutes per game and 4.8 points per game in that span. Simmons has been known as a strong facilitator offensively and a significant asset on the defensive side of things.
That also showed a bit having grabbed six or more defensive rebounds twice during the preseason and he had 10 assists in an exhibition contest against Milwaukee. As for the idea of Simmons taking on the opposing team’s best players defensively, the third member of Brooklyn’s new Big 3 was happy to play wherever he was needed.
“I think whatever makes sense,” he said. “We got some guys who can switch, so I don’t think it’s a matter of just me individually. I think I definitely want to come out here and set the tone. We speak about that a lot as a team, but I feel like everybody is on the sam page, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s me, Kev, Royce (O’Neale), or (Nic) Claxton guarding one of those guys,
“I think everybody has it in them and wants to do their job defensively.”
The ability to set the tone on the defensive end is one that Simmons has taken pride in, calling it a role that “not many guys in the league that can do that.” While the 26-year-old has been happy with the way things have started out for him in his return, there is still another level for him to reach.
“Slowly getting back to who I am and who I was supposed to be,” Simmons said. “It’s still taking a lot of time. I’ve only played four games, not many minutes, but over time I’m going to get there.”