Ben Simmons isn’t used to coming off the bench at the start of the game, so Monday night’s wait must have been excruciating.
Having been sidelined since early November with a back injury, the 27-year-old stood at the end of the Nets’ bench at the start of their game against the Utah Jazz, where he admitted to being “a little antsy.”
With 6:27 left in the first quarter, he finally checked into a game for the first time since Nov. 6. Six seconds later, Simmons led a fast break off a steal to feed Royce O’Neal for a three-pointer — and off they went.
“They know what time it is,” Simmons said. “Certain guys know what it’s like to play with me and where their shot is going to come from. For us, it’s easy. It’s just about sharing the ball and playing the right way.”
In just 18 minutes of action, Simmons flirted with a triple-double, recording 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting with 11 assists and eight rebounds while the Nets hammered the Jazz 147-114.
“Just stepping on the floor, trying to play my game, feel it out, and see where guys were going to be,” he continued. “I was just trying to get some rhythm back. I think it was a good first game.”
It’s no coincidence that his return shaped what was one of Brooklyn’s most impressive outings of the season. The 147 points scored was a season-high. So were the 41 team assists.
That’s what a healthy Simmons can bring to the table. Not only is it a priority of his to push the pace, but aggression on both sides of the floor paired with his facilitating abilities creates numerous open shots for his teammates.
The Nets’ 21 three-pointers made was tied for second-most in a game this season while the 17 turnovers forced were tied for a campaign-high. Their pace of 102.9 was the fourth-highest in a game, too.
“It’s always a fast break when I get the ball,” Simmons said. “Pushing the pace. Not many teams are ready for a team that pushes the ball every single time they’re down the floor.”
Despite being on the floor for just those 18 minutes, Simmons was a plus-27 on Monday night, which was tied with O’Neal for the second-highest among his Nets teammates in the win. His box plus-minus — which uses box score information, the player’s position, and the team’s overall performance to estimate the player’s contribution in points above league average per 100 possessions played — was plus-30.6. To put it into perspective, the average box plus-minus for an All-Star caliber player is a plus-5.
“Extremely impressive,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We empower each other. You see how other people played so well because of the impact of Ben Simmons. It’s that simple. The looks that we got, the amount of threes that we got, the amount of fast-break points we got… the pace we played with… Ben deserves an extreme amount of credit for the way he played.
“He makes other dudes better. He likes doing that. When you get a guy like that who wants to do that on a nightly basis, it’s infectious.”