At this point the problem doesn’t seem to be whether the Nets’ Ben Simmons can play up to the level everyone expects him to, it’s whether he can play at it consistently. Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was just the latest example of that issue, which has become magnified with the absence of Kevin Durant.
Simmons was a non-factor offensively for the first half of the game putting up just one shot in the first 24 minutes and being held without a point. All the things that Simmons can do — play aggressively and run the floor with force — were missing from his game until the third quarter.
SIGN UP FOR $1K FIRST BET OFFER!CLAIM NOW
FIRST BET OFFER!CLAIM OFFER
That was when he refound the ability the Nets are counting on to help them weather the stretch without Durant and ultimately help fulfill their championship aspirations. Simmons punctuated the 10-point third quarter with a buzzer-beating layup, but Nets coach Jacque Vaughn subbed Simmons out with 8:58 left in the fourth quarter and he never got back onto the court.
The night was a reminder of just how talented Simmons has the potential to be and just how frustrating his play is when the consistency isn’t there.
“He just made a choice. He just made a choice to put his head down and be aggressive for our team and we need him to do that,” Kyrie Irving said about the Jekyll & Hyde-type performance of Simmons. “(He) came to the bench and we were just encouraging him as we do every day. When he’s aggressive like that being Ben Simmons then we look very, very good and it gives up opportunities that sometimes we don’t get if he’s not.”
The Nets are nearly at the halfway mark of the season and Simmons still remains a bit of an enigma in the way he’s played in Brooklyn. He was brought in last season to be the final piece of a championship puzzle in Kings County, but he never stepped foot onto the court in a game last season due to back issues, and this season he has been slow to regain the form he once had in Philadelphia.
Brooklyn has remained committed to Simmons, but Vaughn’s message of where his game needs to get to was clear.
“That’s where we’re going to get him to where each possession he has to be dealt with on both ends of the floor,” the Nets head coach said. “Where you feel him on both ends of the floor, and he imposes his will and has an impact on every single possession, which he has the ability to do. That’s where we’re going to get to. That’s the challenge and we’re going to continue to expect it from him. Like I told him, we expect to when we step out on the floor, no excuses at all. We expect to win tonight.
“We expect to win tomorrow. We expect to play hard every single time we step on the floor. So we’re gonna get our guys to do that every single night.”
When asked about what the players can do to help Simmons along, Irving said that the team needed to hold him accountable.
“We don’t want to duck anything when it comes to us building camaraderie,” Irving said. “When I say duck, it just means sometimes confrontation’s good, meaning what happens in the locker room or happens out on the court. Sometimes you guys see it, sometimes you don’t. Encouragement could look many different ways. We just want to continue to hammer home that our best team effort is when we’re all playing well and staying aggressive and just taking shots that the defense is giving us.
“So simple ingredients for this basketball game, don’t want to complicate it, but in terms of Ben, we just want him to continue to be aggressive and when he figures it out, he figures it out. When it clicks for him, it’s gonna click and we’re gonna look even better. I’m seeing flashes, I think we’re all seeing flashes, we just want him to keep it up, keep up the good work.”