When the Nets acquired Ben Simmons in February of 2022, they envisioned him as the third member of an All-Star trio that also featured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. And while Simmons hasn’t quite gotten back to that level of play since returning to the floor this season, he’s reached an opportune time to turn things up a notch.
Thanks to MVP-level play from Durant, Brooklyn has established itself as a legitimate threat in the East, but Durant’s extended absence with a knee injury puts the onus on Simmons to be more aggressive and revert back to many of the things that set him apart during his time in Philadelphia.
When Durant first went down, Simmons acknowledged the importance of his assertiveness and aggression on the offensive end, saying “I think I’m giving the ball up way too many times when I know who I am. I know I need to get to the rim and get buckets.”
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How Ben Simmons can step up for the Nets
Acknowledging the need for more aggression is one thing, but putting his words into action is another. In Brooklyn’s first game without Durant, Simmons attempted just three shots in 26 minutes, though he did pull down nine rebounds and dish out 13 assists.
After sitting for a game, Simmons returned to the lineup on a night in which both Durant and Irving were inactive. And though Simmons recorded a triple-double with 10 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, his 10 shot attempts were fewer than four of his teammates and the Nets fell to a lowly Spurs team.
Brooklyn certainly could have used more offense from the 26-year-old.
Spin cycle 🔁 pic.twitter.com/mdQWMtKk3Q
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 18, 2023
On one hand, Simmons attempting 10 shots is a step in the right direction, but on the other, the disappointing loss is a reminder that Brooklyn is going to need more than that, both while Durant is out and once he returns.
Through 32 games, Simmons is attempting 6.0 shots per game, nearly half the amount of attempts he averaged through his first four seasons in the league with Philadelphia (11.6). Simmons’ performance in the Nets’ loss to the Spurs was just the sixth time in which he attempted nine or more shots as a Net.
Brooklyn’s record when Simmons attempts nine or more shots this season? 5-1.
To be fair to Simmons, there are a few elements at play that could reasonably result in a lack of aggression — he’s getting re-acclimated to playing at a high level after sitting for a year and undergoing back surgery, he often shares the floor with two of the game’s most gifted scoring talents and the Nets have plenty of mouths to feed on offense.
MORE: The widespread impact of Kevin Durant’s injury
That said, a marked increase in aggression from Simmons would actually aid with a few of the above problems as his presence as a scoring threat forces opposing defenses to pick their poison.
For as much flack as Simmons once received for his aversion to attempting 3-pointers, he’s still a gifted offensive talent that is a terror driving downhill and, as a result, averages 15.1 points per game for his career. After all, you don’t receive All-Star or All-NBA selections by being one-dimensional.
The encouraging part is that Simmons has shown flashes of his old self this season, meaning it’s not a matter of ability, but a matter of comfort, mindset and approach.
As a more engaged and aggressive driver, Simmons can create for himself and make life easier for others by putting pressure on the defense.
Simmons is averaging 6.3 assists per game and he isn’t even the scoring threat that he has been in past years; if defenses are on their heels in fear of a Simmons finish in the lane, he can do even more playmaking by penetrating and kicking to one of Brooklyn’s many perimeter threats.
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More than his aggression as a driver, there’s plenty of room for Simmons to improve when rolling or diving after setting picks, especially after screening for Durant or Irving.
Brooklyn will benefit from more of this:
And far less of this:
This time without Durant calls for Simmons to take on the role he was expected to ease into this season.
And while it may be discouraging that he hasn’t necessarily made broad leaps through the first three months of the season, Simmons can use this period to get where he needs to be by the season’s end.
Now is the time for Simmons to make up ground on the progress that was expected from the first part of the season. Brooklyn’s ceiling in the playoffs depends on it.