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What Nets can do with Ben Simmons if he plays better

Arguably the most effective participant on the earth was requested about Ben Simmons’ breakout efficiency, and summed it up with one phrase.

Actually the identical phrase twice.

“Incredible,” Nets star Kevin Durant gushed, then circled again for extra. “Incredible. I mean, I’m just happy for him, because he’s been trying to get his form back, trying to figure his rhythm out.”

After lacking all of final season and struggling by the beginning of this season — shedding his beginning job and being relegated to the bench — Simmons adopted up his first stable efficiency Tuesday in Sacramento with a real breakthrough outing two nights later in a 109-107 win in Portland.

“I think he did a good job of just talking up, commanding the offense, commanding the team on the defensive side of the ball,” Durant continued. “He was incredible, so we’re going to keep building on that. … He controlled the game and was able to get us back into it.”

Kevin Durant talked up Ben Simmons’ efficiency Thursday evening in a highway win over the Trail Blazers.
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To say it was an auspicious signal for the Nets could be like calling a life raft helpful to a drowning man. The Nets have wanted one thing — something — from Simmons, and these two video games are the primary inkling that he’s nonetheless able to offering it.

“I’m getting there. I’m building. I’m getting there day by day,” Simmons stated, going again to the mantra he’s used all season. Against the Kings and Trail Blazers, Simmons appeared extra spry bodily and performed extra aggressively, prepared to assault even if the assault failed.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” he stated. “People seem like I had a sprained ankle. I had back surgery. That’s not easy to come back from. So I take it day by day. I stay locked in and focused, and continue to build myself, my body and my game.”

Spring in his step

That again surgical procedure — a microdiscectomy in May to repair a herniated L-4 disk — got here after Simmons missed all of final season. He sat out in Philadelphia citing psychological well being points, and by no means bought again on the ground for the Nets after he was acquired on the steep value of former MVP James Harden, a three-time NBA scoring champ.

Many Nets followers grumbled at Simmons’ unavailability. And when he lastly made his debut this season, they had been vexed by the three-time All-Star’s play. Even a few of his teammates have whispered privately, a significant subject at a crew meeting throughout which veteran chief Markieff Morris reportedly critiqued Simmons’ play.

Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons (10) drives to the hoop next to Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) in the second quarter at the Golden 1 Center.
After lacking all of final season, Simmons has performed in 11 of 16 Nets video games this season.
USA TODAY Sports

Simmons says his again is ok now, however he missed 4 straight video games as a result of a swollen left knee — after which sat out Sunday’s loss on the Lakers with the identical difficulty.

“He sat out the Laker game because his knee wasn’t feeling right, and really give him credit for doing the exercises, doing the treatment to be able to play the next two games,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn stated. “Now the consistency part continues, but the big part of it is just feeling good.”

Since his return, he’s appeared like a brand new man. Or maybe extra precisely, like his outdated self.

On Thursday, he had 15 factors, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and offered versatile, switchy protection guarding one-through-five over 32 minutes. The factors, boards and minutes had been season highs, as was his aggression stage.

“It just gives us all confidence,” Durant stated. “Look how many wide-open shots we got: Royce [O’Neale] got a lot of wide-open 3s, Joe [Harris] started getting some 3s, Yuta [Watanabe] got some 3s, Seth [Curry] got some shots. Ben just getting downhill making plays, and you combine that with Royce’s 11 assists, myself who can create a little bit off the dribble, just gives us more weapons out there on the floor.”

Head coach Jacque Vaughn of the Brooklyn Nets reacts during the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on November 17, 2022.
Jacque Vaughn made Simmons the backup middle after taking on as Nets head coach.
Getty Images

Pushing the ball and creating open 3-point appears to be like for others is what Simmons has finished greatest. Well, that and defend. Thursday bodes properly in each regards.

“Yeah, it’s very encouraging, most minutes he’s played, really responded well,” stated Vaughn, who benched Simmons partly to separate him from beginning middle Nic Claxton.

“He had a few combinations with Nic, without Nic, pushing the basketball as a screener. So kind of what we envision, him doing everything for us. The defensive versatility of guarding [Jusuf Nurkic] and also Damian Lillard. A lot of people can’t do that.”

On the road

When Simmons got here again from the sore knee to play at Sacramento, he was averaging 5.2 factors, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists, all career lows. The Nets had been outscored by a median of 4.8 factors per sport in Simmons’ minutes, worst on the crew and 410th out of 455 NBA gamers.

And all of that paled compared to his woes on the free-throw line. Simmons — whose hesitancy to shoot free throws helped make him a pariah in Philadelphia — was capturing simply 46.7 p.c from the charity stripe, and hadn’t made a foul shot since Oct. 29, the evening of the aforementioned crew meeting.

But after having 11 factors, 5 boards and three assists within the blowout loss to the Kings, he was far better in Portland. And when Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups went hack-a-Ben at a key second with three minutes to play, Simmons calmly sank three of 4 free throws.

Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots a free throw during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 17, 2022.
Simmons defused a hack-a-Ben technique by hitting three of 4 clutch free throws in opposition to the Trail Blazers.
NBAE by way of Getty Images

“We had no doubts when he walked up there,” Durant stated. “We all were confident just the way his game was flowing and just how he was playing — everybody felt his energy to start the game. … We needed those.”

Simmons might have wanted them extra. The Nets might have stated they had been assured in him, however his personal self-assurance has been flagging.

Simmons famously avoided contact in pivotal moments of the 76ers’ second-round playoff ouster by the Hawks in 2021, presumably for concern of being fouled. If he had any concern Thursday, he fought by it and managed his nerves. Whether or not he turned a nook, it felt encouraging.

“For me, I love those moments,” Simmons stated. “I’m not going to shy away. That was their plan. Obviously, it didn’t work. … I have my own back, my teammates have my back, the coaches.”

Durant stated: “This is the type of game we all needed to see. I think everybody else on the outside, fans were loving it, couldn’t wait to see this type of performance on him. So we expect that from every night.”

Just for starters

Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) looks to shoot over Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis (10) and forward Keegan Murray (13).
The Nets want to determine whether or not Simmons can share the court docket successfully with Nic Claxton (33).
AP

To maximize Simmons each evening, he wants to begin. But with the best way Claxton is defending in a career year, meaning having two non-shooters on the ground — and the NBA is all about spacing. The Nets had been minus-32 within the 75 minutes that Simmons and Claxton performed collectively within the first 4 video games of the season.

One of Vaughn’s first choices after taking on as coach was to stagger their minutes, each as a result of Simmons’ lackluster play and to keep away from having two non-shooters clogging the lane.

“The analytics spoke to us, and [the numbers said] the spacing just isn’t as good as when they’re separated,” Vaughn stated. “So we have to figure out some solutions that way, because defensively if we can get Kevin and Nic and Ben on the floor at the same time, that’s a pretty big group with Royce also. That’s a lot of versatility, so we’re gonna continue to work through it. We saw [Thursday] there was some success, and we’ll continue to learn about it.”

Eventually the Nets will want Simmons — a former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up who’s in the midst of a five-year contract — to return to the beginning linuep. Until then, they want him to maintain exhibiting he’s worthy of it.

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