Close your eyes and imagine the possibilities.
On one end, Ben Simmons hounds an All-Star point guard before switching onto and locking down an All-Star swingman. As the shot clock winds down, he sniffs out a last-ditch action and rotates over to swat a shot off the backboard. Immediately, he grabs the ball and goes, flanked by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
An unstoppable, all-seeing 6-foot-10 open floor menace, Simmons draws two bodies and looks off both defenders closing in on Brooklyn’s two All-Star bucket-getters before dumping it off with a sweet no-look dime to a wide open Seth Curry in the corner.
Nothin’ but net.
MORE: Yes, Ben Simmons is now the NBA’s most underrated player
That’s the two-way impact Nets coach Steve Nash envisioned when Brooklyn finally completed the blockbuster trade last year that sent James Harden to Philadelphia for a package headlined by Simmons. And while the three-time All-Star never suited up for the Nets in 2021-22, Nash is patiently optimistic about Simmons finally making his mark as the ultimate wild card on perhaps the NBA’s most fascinating team.
Speaking on Tuesday to ESPN’s Nick Friedell, Nash harped on the importance of patience even with the season now less than a week away.
We’ll be patient with Ben because he is an incredibly talented and unique player, but he’s not going to be at his best in the short term and he’s just got to continue to slog through this period of returning to play and getting his confidence, timing and rhythm back.
I think for Ben a lot of it is not just the understanding, it’s the reps. He hasn’t played for a long time. He’s coming off of back surgery, so I think there’s some periods of indecision and confidence that he has to gain from playing. All of us do. We can’t take that much time off, join a new group and just figure it out Day 1, so he needs time.
Simmons hasn’t played meaningful basketball since June 20, 2021 — the day of the now infamous passed up dunk in Game 7 against the Hawks — and has understandably looked rusty so far this preseason. In 44 minutes, he’s scored a total of just 10 points with more turnovers (8) than made shots (5).
On the heels of an offseason that featured yet more videos of Simmons suddenly firing off more jumpers in scrimmages, he also has yet to take a single shot outside the paint.
Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Yes, it’s only preseason.
Yes, we’ve been down this road before.
No, it’s not a big deal… yet.
Make no mistake, playing under the bright light of New York and sharing the floor with Durant and Irving comes with a spotlight rivaling any in the league. And for a team with 17 nationally televised games, Simmons — as was the case when he was playing next to Joel Embiid on the 76ers — won’t have the luxury of working on his craft in the quieter, friendlier nether regions of NBA League Pass.
MORE: Breaking down how Simmons looked in Nets debut
While Nash is rightfully taking the patient approach with Simmons, who certainly must overcome some lingering open questions regarding his physical and mental health, Durant understands the importance of helping Simmons regain his confidence. How will he do it?
Just trust in him. Pass him the ball when he’s open, tell him to be aggressive. I don’t do too much. I’m not here to be babysitting anybody. Ben knows that if he’s got a time to be aggressive, go be aggressive. Who gives a s— if you make it or miss it? We just like you being aggressive. [He can] tell me the same thing, so we’re always feeding each other that type of energy, encouragement.
Look to score the ball, that’s the name of the game, is putting the ball in the hoop. So when Ben is aggressive and get downhill and look for everybody and then put the ball in the rim it’s going to be a plus for our team. But I don’t have to tell him this every day, he knows what it is.
Playing beside Durant and Irving should allow Simmons to exhale a little easier, knowing he won’t have the burden of operating as the primary or even secondary creator when games get tight. And while never known as a scorer, Simmons has proven capable of taking on the aggressor mantle.
In 2019-20, en route to making All-NBA, he averaged a career-high 11.9 drives per game, which ranked ahead of players like Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George, among others. There’s an aggressive version of Simmons hiding in that frame somewhere.
Whether or not we see it — and when — is another question still up for debate.
The Nets open the season on Oct. 19 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Fans in the U.S. can watch the biggest games of the 2022-23 NBA season on Sling TV. Stream Sling Orange for $35/month to catch all regular season games on TNT, ESPN & ABC. For games on NBA TV, subscribe to Sling Orange & Sports Extra for $46/month. Local regional blackout restrictions apply.
SIGN UP FOR SLING: English | Spanish