When it comes to the Nets’ success while Kevin Durant is out, Ben Simmons will be a big piece of whether they sink or swim over the next month.
The Nets guard has averaged 7.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 40 games this season and has done a good job of generating looks for his teammates. Simmons’ greatest ability has always been facilitating the play rather than putting up big offensive numbers, but with Durant out, the Nets will need a greater offensive output from him going forward.
For Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, the first step of that for Simmons is being more aggressive.
“The next step is to play every possession with force,” Vaughn said at practice on Wednesday. “The beginning of a possession all the way to the end of it. And so that becomes a habit that you consistently (do) from possession to possession and game to game. So the pace that he’s going to create for us, the easy shots that he has to create for us because of the pace, it’s a necessity. And looking forward to it.”
Part of the challenge in playing with “force” is doing it consistently. Vaughn pointed to the Nets game in New Orleans when Simmons had been able to play that force that he was talking about during different points of the game.
The key now is doing it every time he steps foot on the floor.
“He had three things at the beginning of that game. First of all, he picked CJ McCollum up full court Alright? So that’s the defensive force,” Vaughn explained. “Then you go to the offensive force. He gets the ball swung back to him. He drives (on Jonas) Valanciunas’ right hand. That’s playing with force. He gets downhill, (pushes) the pace, at (Trey) Murphy for a finish. That’s playing with force. He gets a crossover, post up dribble, he draws two defenders to him. He sprays it out to Royce (O’Neale) for a corner trey ball. That’s playing with force.
“Now that was the first six minutes of the game. Now can you do it at the 18-minute mark? The 24-minute mark? The 40-minute mark? So that’s the progression. (It’s) still the same thing and you’re seeing it, but can you consistently see it? Because we definitely need that with Kevin being out.”
Durant will be reevaluated by the Nets after two weeks, but an ESPN report suggested that he would miss a month with an isolated MCL sprain. Simmons has taken plenty of heat from critics over what transpired in Philadelphia and wasn’t given much leeway when setbacks hindered his return to the court after the Nets acquired him at the trade deadline last February.
Simmons has acclimated well into the Nets system, especially after Vaughn took over as coach in November. Making an impact while Durant is out will go a long way in proving to Simmons’ critics that he can return to the All-Star level he has played at in the past.