Everyone handles criticism differently. Some people are able to brush it off, remaining singularly focused on the task at hand. Others can take it to heart which can lead to regression, something we have seen affect professional athletes in the past.
In addition to a back injury, Simmons had to work his way through mental struggles that kept him off the floor last season.
This year, he is back and healthy for a Nets team currently boasting the longest-active win streak in the NBA. Ahead of a pivotal matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers – who sit just one spot ahead of the Nets in the Eastern Conference playoff race – Simmons spoke on how he deals with critiques.
Simmons on Criticism
“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.”
The win marked Brooklyn’s eighth in a row – the longest active streak in the league – and their 12th in the last 13 outings.
Vaughn has been able to get through to his team in ways his predecessor, Steve Nash, could not and the results have been palpable. He recently praised the efforts of Simmons and fourth-year breakout big man Nic Claxton after they helped force seven turnovers on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But he’s also urged his mercurial star to play with the same force when he has heavier workloads as he does in lighter games.
“Can he protect the rim for us,” Vaughn said to Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News rhetorically. “Can he guard on the perimeter for us? Can he push the pace? All of those things at a high level. Not as if he’s playing 32 minutes, but 22.”
Simmons played 28 minutes against Milwaukee, his 12th-most of the season. But it was enough to earn him just his third double-double of the season – Simmmons is still searching for his first triple-double of the campaign but has come close several times now including this game with eight assists (and three steals) to go with his 11 boards.
He also finished as a game-best plus-26.
“Yeah, I think we answered a lot of those questions,” Vaughn said of doubts regarding his team’s defensive ceiling, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
Long Road to Recovery
Simmons’ play began seeing an uptick that began in mid-November but has been interrupted by knee soreness that sidelined him for four straight games.
It was just the latest in a lengthy list of injuries to stall Simmons – a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection – in his return to being one of the premier players in this league since he was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers at the deadline last season.
“People forget, I had back surgery,” Simmons said. “It’s not something that’s just automatically you’re good and you’re able to go out there and be yourself. 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.”
Simmons praised the Nets for “trusting each other” after their 143-113 win over the Golden State Warriors saying that he preferred the style of basketball Brooklyn played in that one.
They were at it again versus Milwaukee.
“Just playing basketball,” Simmons said. “I think, when we get stops, it’s easy to get out and run and get open shots. For us, we gotta be aware that it starts on defense. And when you see guys hitting shots, you want to pass the ball – it’s contagious. It’s a fun way to play basketball. That’s how it’s supposed to be played.”
Teammate Royce O’Neale sent a staunch warning to his team that they could not afford to keep falling down early to teams as they had numerous times this season, including on this current string of wins.
Simmons is in complete lockstep.
“Very focused. When we play great teams like that, it’s attention to detail,” he said. “So you gotta be focus all four quarters with the game plan, offensive and defensively…“We can come out and have great halves. But it’s going to take that second half that we gotta stay focused in and be relentless and keep that same focus throughout the second half.”
The Nets tilt versus Cleveland kicks off a stretch of six road games in seven outings that will also take them to visit the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, and New Orleans Pelicans.