In the midst of the chaos that has surrounded the Brooklyn Nets this season — including trading away Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the last week — Ben Simmons has been able to hide in the shadows a bit.
Now, as the new-look Nets figure out their standing in the East, more eyes will be on Simmons in Brooklyn. If Tuesday is an example of things to come, it’s looking pretty bleak for the former All-Star point guard.
Coming off the bench in the Nets’ last three games, his minutes are noticeably decreasing. Simmons is averaging a career-low in nearly every category with 7.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists a game.
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In Tuesday’s matchup against the Knicks, a team the Nets had not lost to in three years, Simmons displayed the same unwillingness to score that fans have been so accustomed to seeing from him.
On this occasion in the first quarter Simmons was questioned after having what looked like an open lane to the basket, but instead of going up and attempting a layup he passes to a flat-footed Nic Claxton, who is immediately met with defenders.
Simmons played just 13 minutes, attempted two field goals, and finished with two points in the 124-106 loss to the Knicks.
The incident was another chapter in what has been a disappointing season for the former No. 1 overall pick. Fans, pundits, and even his own coach seem to be fed up watching a five-year, $177.2 million ($A256.6m) contract-player being hesitant to score the ball.
Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn’s comments regarding Ben Simmons future with the team in the wake of Tuesday’s loss to their cross-town rivals the Knicks has highlighted the sad reality of just how far the former No.1 overall draft pick has fallen.
“You put another big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put a playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then if you go small with Ben, then you have to figure out can you rebound enough with him,” Vaughn said in response to questions about Simmons’ role in the Nets’ rotation moving forward without KD and Kyrie.
“So, the challenges are ahead of us. We’ll look them head on. We’ll figure it out. We have the personnel to figure it out. Whether it is me mixing and matching throughout different pieces of the game, and allowing him to have a group and run with a group, that part we’ll figure out, but you see the challenges that lie ahead.”
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Before the game, Simmons spoke about his own uncertainty with his role in the team.
“Everything’s been changing all year, so it’s hard to really understand what’s going on, but hopefully we find some rhythm and consistency,” Simmons said.
“It’s different. It’s a different experience (coming off the bench). So whatever the team needs from us to win, I’m willing to do that.”
Yes Network’s Brooklyn Nets analyst Sarah Kustok empathised with the challenge facing head coach Jacque Vaughn during the TV broadcast.
“It’s about production, it’s about consistency, it’s about availability and that has not always been present… and when there’s glaring limitations to your game, it makes it difficult sometimes (for the coach) to work out who you’re (meant to be) on the floor with and how that looks and how that functions,” Kustok said.
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Yes Network’s Frank Isola echoed his colleagues sentiments by emphasising that Simmons has to take responsibility and accountability for his own issues and can’t rely onVaughn to resolve his problems.
“They’re asking Jacque Vaughn all these different things like ‘What can you do with Ben?’ and ‘How’s it gonna work?’, and I get it Jacque Vaughn gets paid the big bucks to make those decisions but it’s up to Ben Simmons,” Isola said while providing studio analysis post-game.
“Ben Simmons is a three-time All-Star in the league, he was a Rookie of the Year. In 2020, he was (named) third-team All-NBA (and yet) it’s up to Jacque Vaughn (to fix Ben’s issues)… The guy was the number one overall pick, he was the (NBA) Rookie of the Year, so it’s absurd this idea that the coach has to figure it out.
“This is clearly a Ben Simmons problem, I don’t mean to pile on Ben Simmons, but he has to figure it out. He has to decide whether he wants to compete when he’s out there (on the court). He has all the skill in the world… It just feels like he could do a little bit more.”
Former NBA champion and current ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins didn’t hold back when delivering scathing criticism of the Australian-born superstar during an appearance on ‘NBA Today’ earlier on Wednesday.
“I don’t know why we expecting Ben Simmons to return back to being an All-Star calibre player,” Perkins said.
“The guy is lost. He’s scared. He’s allergic to the basket. The thing about Ben Simmons is that when he had Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, I remember him being on record talking about how ‘We have the capability of being the best team in the league’.
“Now all of a sudden KD and Kyrie Irving is gone. Now you have Spencer Dinwiddie, you have (Dorian) Finney-Smith, you have Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, (Nic) Claxton, Cam Thomas. All those guys have elevated their game. Jacque Vaughn has been doing a hell of a job coaching this new ball club. The only person that hasn’t elevated his game is Ben Simmons so it comes to a point where we have to realise that this is who he is… Forget lacking confidence, I’m starting to question whether he still loves the game of basketball.”
Meanwhile Perkins’ colleague, ESPN NBA writer Zach Lowe, empathised with the 26-year-old.
“I’m out of takes on Ben Simmons,” Lowe added.
“He’s the third-string centre of the Brooklyn Nets. Let that sink in. Ben Simmons is the Nets third-string centre and knitpicking Ben Simmons every time he catches the ball under the rim and throws it out, it’s the low-hanging fruit of NBA analysis. We could do it every game, every night.
“I’ve reached the point where I just feel bad for him and I know he’s making $35 million (a year) so no one is actually gonna feel bad for him… I’ve reached a point of just empathy, he’s clearly a broken player mentally. He’s scared of contact. He’s scared of free throws. He’s scared of shooting at the basket.
“It’s just sad to watch because we all know what this guy was as recently as two years ago and there’s no point just (continually) beating him up for things we can all see as plain as day… I hope we see the old Ben Simmons, or 75% of it, cause the guy that’s playing now is a broken player.”
US Sports Talk Radio host Doug Gottlieb worries that the former LSU standout is already beyond repair while also painting a bleak picture of the Aussie’s place in the league.
“Ben Simmons, he stinks,” Gottlieb said during an appearance on Australia’s SEN Radio Wednesday mornings
“I can’t believe he didn’t play (for the Boomers at the Tokyo Olympics)… he should’ve been with them because he would’ve remembered how to truly play basketball and I think that would’ve helped his confidence and his shooting.
“… You get to a point where you either admit you’ve got a problem and you need help and you’ve gotta figure it out, or (you’re too far gone and) we’ve kind of lost you. I feel like we lost him. No one wants him in the NBA, they wanted to trade him (before the deadline) they just couldn’t find any takers. I mean he won’t shoot lay-ups, it’s crazy.”
While it hasn’t yet been confirmed, Gottlieb’s revelation about the Nets attempting to trade Ben Simmons ahead of last Friday’s deadline marries up with a report in the early hours of Wednesday by Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer.
“What becomes of Simmons and the final two years and nearly $80 million remaining on his contract after this season is of course another dynamic to monitor in Brooklyn,” Fischer wrote.
“The Nets are widely expected to gauge what trade market could materialise for Simmons after his disappointing campaign comes to a close. The three-time All-Star is still far from the form he exhibited during his best days in Philadelphia.”
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It is unclear what the market is for Simmons right now as his value has plummeted compared to what it was in seasons past, although according Gottlieb’s report it appears almost non-existent.
Unless Simmons finds a spark and proves he’s worth his hefty price the rest of the season, then the Nets might run into trouble trying to get valuable pieces in return.
They may even find themselves having to sweeten the deal to convince a team to take on Simmons albatross of a contract, similar to what the Lakers recently had to do with Russell Westbrook.
It is worth noting however that Westbrook’s contract was an expiring one and he has produced far more on the court this season in L.A. than what Ben has in Brooklyn.
For a player who was not far off becoming a face of the league not so long ago it is a sad, sad reality indeed.
Sections of this article originally appeared in the NY Post and were reproduced with permission.
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