The Brooklyn Nets (27-13) are up against it. Sure, they have been the NBA’s hottest team since the start of November and the Eastern Conference has been muddled from the outset with little separation between the top and lower ends of the playoff spectrum.
Still, losing superstar Kevin Durant for what figures to be around a month or so is a major and potentially devastating blow.
They are going to need their other stars to step up with Ben Simmons coming to mind for some.
We have already seen Kyrie Irving take his game to another level even when Durant was on the floor if the moment called for it averaging 25.7 points on 62.1% true shooting since returning from an eight-game suspension. But Simmons, for as impactful as he has been during this run, needs to take his game back to another level.
Ben Simmons ‘Needs to Step Up’
“Ben Simmons has been great for them defensively,” began ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelbourne. “With Nic Claxton and Ben Simmons, they have a really good defense this year. But, Ben Simmons used to drive to the basket…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.”
The Nets’ defense has a plus-3.5 net efficiency differential when Claxton and Simmons share the floor this season, per Cleaning The Glass, with a defensive differential ranking in the 70th percentile.
That number drops precipitously without Kevin Durant to minus-34.4, low enough to rank in the lowest possible percentile though it also comes on just 93 qualifying possessions.
Simmons is averaging 7.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists this season.
Support For Ben Simmons
“I actually think this is a great opportunity for Ben,” said Kane Pitman of ESPN Australia & New Zealand on January 11. “I’ve been saying all season, take your time with him. He’s taken, basically, 18 months away from the game. Give him time to find his feet. But ultimately the Nets need to know what Ben Simmons is going to look like in the postseason. And now, he has to step up.”
Pitman went on to describe the current scene for Brooklyn in which their offensive rating is tied for first in the NBA since November 27. Durant has averaged 30.2 points on 70.3% true shooting in that span.
Brooklyn is 18-2 in that span, tops in the Association.
But, over his last five games, Simmons is averaging just 4.6 points on 47.5% true shooting. That is less than encouraging development knowing they are losing the safety net Durant provides. They won the only game he missed this season — a 136-133 win over the Indiana Pacers on December 10. But they went 8-19 without him last season including an 11-game losing streak.
Ben Simmons Has Welcomed Criticism
Simmons has welcomed criticism where it has been warranted this season, he said.
“I like to be called out,” Simmons told reporters following the Nets’ 118-100 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “Especially when I’m not contributing to helping the team win. So, for me, I want to be able to improve in certain areas to help this team.”
While he has certainly done that up to this point, losing Durant undoubtedly puts additional pressure on Simmons to show some of what led to his three All-Star appearances offensively.