MILWAUKEE — The meek can inherit the land, but they’re punished in the NBA. And through three games this season, Ben Simmons’ hesitation has cost him and the Nets.
The Nets have warned that getting Simmons back to form after missing all of last season could be a long process. And it looks like his recovery won’t be linear or smooth, but will happen in spurts. Now that the Nets are preparing to ride the Simmons roller coaster in a Wednesday game against the Bucks, they will have to balance between publicly preaching patience and privately demanding high standards.
“His skills are going to catch up to our game plan eventually, just at the body level,” Kyrie Irving said. “I’m not going to give him any excuses and he wouldn’t want me to give any. The relationship we’ve developed is centered around holding each other to that high standard and knowing that we’re capable of doing special things.
“It’s largely mental, pushing through what you think you can get out of an injury. … But until then — you can quote me: I said it — it’s going to look ugly at times. … It’s all about the team, and Ben is a big part of it, and we need him to shut down as much as we do.
Everyone from Irving to coach Steve Nash to Simmons himself warned the former 76er would be rusty. After all, he hadn’t played since June 2021 due to mental health issues and then back pain. So far this season he has bounced between average and downright mediocre.
After his performance in the Nets’ Friday win over the Raptors marked a step forward, Simmons took two more steps back on Monday in Memphis. He finished with seven points, eight assists, three rebounds, five turnovers and was game-worst under-16. He fouled with 3:52 left on a cheap call that Grizzlies star Ja Morant pushed him into.
“When you don’t play in an NBA game for 16, 18 months, it takes time to get his mind around again. Unfortunately, it’s going to be painful times for him,” Nash said. “But it shows that he has a long way to go, a lot of growth to go back to where he was. He’s already shown previews, so he’s going to make it happen. It’s just about getting the support and getting there as quickly as possible.
Even Nash, however, readily admitted that Simmons had to start attacking the rim before the question was even over.
“Yeah. Yeah. It’s a little rusty, the confidence not just physically, but with the pace of the game, to go to the basket,” Nash said. “You can see him trying sometimes, and that’s great. We want to keep pushing him to try to break through and force the issue, even if he makes mistakes, just so we can see him being aggressive and starting to find a rhythm to do it. … It’s not easy for him. It’s been a long time, new band and back surgery. Add it all up and we have to have some patience with him.
Simmons will enter Wednesday’s game against the Bucks with just 17 points, to go with 14 fouls and 11 turnovers, in a mostly ineffective 84 minutes this season.
The former All-Star was once a transitional terror on offense and a disruptive defender. The Nets are pushing him to be more assertive, willing to accept any mistakes in aggression as the price to pay to break his funk.
“That’s the name of basketball, it’s imposing your will on your opponent,” Kevin Durant said. “So we encourage that every time we go out on the floor.”
Despite being a two-time NBA All-Defensive player, Simmons has more fouls (two) than he steals (one, against the Grizzlies). He’s a minus-45, largely because teams weren’t guarding him and he was passively letting them off the hook.
“I have to push. I have to be more aggressive, more assertive,” Simmons said, aware that he will have to work his way through the discomfort.
“It’s rehearsals, rehearsals. And I’m going to get those reps in the game. [It] maybe not pretty, sometimes it’s gonna be ugly. But that’s when I’m going to have my reps, so that’s what it is.
New York Post