Things may finally be getting better for Ben Simmons after a tough year and a half.
The 6’10 point guard started the first six games of the Brooklyn Nets this season and was underwhelming before knee soreness sidelined him for their next four contests. Upon his return, he was demoted to the second unit and has come off the bench since.
Though his passing and defensive abilities have always been the hallmarks of his skillset, he came into this campaign with a career average of 15.9 points per outing which made his failure to score in double digits during his first nine games of the season rather disappointing.
However, Simmons, at last, seems to have rediscovered his rhythm during Brooklyn’s current West Coast road trip.
Newly installed head coach Jacque Vaughn has deployed Simmons as their back-up center to maximize his size and defensive abilities. It has also given him more opportunities to collect rebounds then push the ball up the court which has always been one of his biggest strengths.
Playing Simmons as a full-time center makes it easier for the Nets to surround him with four shooters as well to minimize the negative impact of his hesitation to shoot from the outside. During his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons would successfully take on this role whenever their superstar Joel Embiid, who was still quite injury prone at that time, would miss games.
It has taken some time, but the 26-year-old is beginning to grow into the role that has been given to him and he was one of the few silver linings in their humiliating 153-121 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Simmons crossed the 10-point mark for the first time since June 2021, tallying 11 points on five-of-seven shooting together with five rebounds, three assists, and a steal.
The defeat was not necessarily Simmons’ fault–they already trailed Sacramento by 10 points when he checked in for Edmond Sumner midway through the opening period–and the early deficit may have actually helped ease the pressure for him.
The momentum that Simmons gathered carried over to their next game, a 109-107 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He made all six of his shots and three-of-four free throws to finish with a season-high 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, a block, and just one turnover.
Although all made free throws are impressive for a player who shoots 59.6% from the line over his career, his three makes were even more praiseworthy when considering the setting. Simmons was put in a pressure-packed situation when the Blazers employed a “Hack-a-Simmons” tactic late in the fourth quarter and did not falter.
Hitting these crucial free throws was a major win for a player who has openly discussed the mental hurdles that have held him back from maximizing his potential. Simmons is beginning to show flashes of confidence once again and this, coupled with the expected return of Kyrie Irving later this week, could lead to a much needed winning streak for Brooklyn.
The Nets, who came into this year with legitimate championship aspirations, sport a 7-9 win-loss record that has them at 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They have already changed coaches in this month-old season and could use a reprieve from their tumultuous past few weeks.
Simmons’ brief reemergence has been a rare ray of hope for them in these disappointing times. If he can rediscover his form that allowed him to become a three-time NBA All-Star with the Sixers, he can boost them even further and straight into the title conversation as a dangerous dark horse.
It is clear that all is not lost for Simmons and it is encouraging to see him slowly battle back into the spectacular player that he once was.