Ben Simmons had maybe his best game of the season Tuesday night, even while his team was getting its doors blown off by the Kings. He was moving well, more aggressively attacking the rim, and finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench. It was a solid performance.
Brooklyn expected much more than solid out of the former All-Star they traded James Harden to land (to be fair, Harden forced the trade). He was going to be a defensive anchor and a third key offensive creator in the attack with Kevin Durant (playing at an elite level) and Kyrie Irving (still serving his suspension). Instead, he’s coming off the bench and working out of the dunker’s spot/high post as more of a backup 4/5. Sam Amick and Chams Charania at The Athletic report growing frustration with Simmons around the Nets.
According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the frustration surrounding Simmons had been building in recent weeks within the organization. The coaching staff and players have been concerned about his availability and level of play, with some questioning his passion for the game, those sources said. But even when he did play, Simmons’ struggles in his first nine games this season were part of the Nets frustration as well.
Simmons made his return from May back surgery to play in the early going of this season, but recently missed eight days to have his left knee drained because of fluid. After beginning the season as the starting point guard tasked with playmaking and pushing the pace, Simmons has been moved to the backup center spot in his last four appearances.
Simmons defended the time he missed with the knee issue.
“You’re obviously not gonna be happy when anybody’s out,” Simmons told The Athletic. “But for me, I’ve been dealing with the knee since the start of the season. It’s been swollen. I had PRP (injections). I had blood drained a couple times. So it’s not a made up thing, you know? It’s a real thing.
“I get (the skepticism), but I think the one thing with me is that I’m a competitor. I want to win and play. So I’m gonna do what I can to get out there.”
Health concerns are health concerns, but the questioning of “his passion for the game” is something that started to bubble up in Philadelphia as well. The perception was that he was unwilling to put in the work, fight through challenges, and push to get on the court or get better. It’s a comment teams tend to soft-pedal because it’s one of the worst things you can say about a pro athlete, but it’s not new with Simmons.
Simmons also pushed back against those charges, noting the times he played through serious back issues in Philly. He says he is putting in all the work to get back on the court.
The 6-9 Nets need All-Star Ben Simmons, more on the defensive end than on offense. Yet it’s fair to ask if he can physically get back to the point of being one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league. The Nets were banking on him being close to that because they are a team that lacks rim protection and gets pounded inside (most recently by Anthony Davis and then bullied by Domantas Sabonis on Tuesday). Simmons was a lynchpin in a defense currently ranked 20th in the league.
There are a lot of things to be frustrated about in Brooklyn, and just how frustrated Durant is remains one of the big looming questions over the league. Simmons is just one of those issues, but the Nets seem to be getting a clear picture of the limitations of Simmons as a player right now. They may be frustrated that he can’t push through those, but they must deal with the reality.