At one point, it appeared the Brooklyn Nets (27-14) would be just fine and might even get the victory in their first game without Kevin Durant – sidelined for the next month with an MCL sprain – while getting only the most recent version of Ben Simmons.
That version has done almost everything for Brooklyn; everything but attack with regularity.
Instead, the Nets suffered a 109-98 loss to the Boston Celtics getting outscored in the fourth quarter 25-16. And, while it’s not all on him, Simmons knows he can and must do more now.
“I think it starts with being aggressive knowing that my team needs that,” Simmons told reporters during his postgame availability after playing 26-plus scoreless minutes in the loss. “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.”
Ben Simmons Calls Self Out
Simmons certainly made a major contribution dishing out 13 assists and grabbing nine rebounds while also notching a pair of steals and a block finishing as a team-best plus-10. But he only attempted three shots in the entire game despite Durant – who takes an efficient 18.8 shots per game – being out of the lineup.
This is the seventh time this season Simmons has attempted three or fewer shots in a game with the Nets going 4-3 in those situations. It is also his second time going scoreless in a game this year with Brooklyn winning that other instance as well.
They had Durant for every other instance, however.
Simmons also ran into foul trouble picking up two in the second quarter but he still failed to take advantage of his opportunities.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne got specific when calling Simmons out.
“Ben Simmons used to drive to the basket,” Shelbourne said on ‘NBA Today’ on January 9. “He was fifth in the NBA in drives to the basket five years ago. He used to average around 10 drives to the basket per game. This year, 3.0 drives a game. That’s not enough for a guy like Ben Simmons.”
Simmons – who is in the third year of a five-year, $177 million contract – leaned on a familiar refrain when asked what has to change with Durant out, specifically when it comes to adjusting his game.
Nets Need a Team Effort
“One less guy to get open,” Simmons said. “Especially a guy like Kevin. He can score at will. Takes a lot of pressure off of everybody. But, us collectively, we got to understand that and play a certain way with pace, movement. We got to play team basketball because I feel like, when we’re playing team basketball it’s hard for anybody to stop us.”
Simmons said something similar during the Nets’ win streak.
“That’s what basketball is to me,” Simmons said after the Nets’ 143-113 win over the Golden State Warriors. “You know, guys sharing the ball, us getting the best shot we can every time down, and then trusting each other.”
Simmons’ teammates have talked him up for his performance this season and for playing through a non-COVID illness during their run. Head coach Jacque Vaughn went so far as to say that Simmons has answered the question about whether or not he can provide all of the things he is capable of at a sustained high level.
Getting Back to Being Himself
The three-time All-Star has also said that he likes to be called out if he isn’t helping the team win while reminding everyone that he is still on the road to a full recovery.
He missed all of last season in part due to having a microdiscectomy performed on his back.
“It’s not something that’s just automatically you’re good and you’re able to go out there and be yourself,” Simmons said of his recovery process. “It’s something I’m trying to build and just keep adding up because come playoffs, I gotta be that engine to attack and find my guys.”
Add to that the mental health issues that he dealt with and it has been a long time since we have seen the version of Simmons that earned him that large contract and an All-NBA nod in 2020. If the Nets are going to stay afloat with Durant on the mend and reach their ultimate ceiling, they are going to need something closer to that version of Simmons than this one.