Nets HC Issues Challenge to Polarizing Star Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons, Brooklyn Nets

Getty Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles up the floor.

If the Brooklyn Nets are going to reach their ceiling, whatever that may ultimately be, they are only going to get there because their stars are producing at or above the expected level. That much is no secret.

It is also something that we have seen play out over their seven-game win streak that has them sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Along the way, Kevin Durant has been playing the “best basketball of his career”, according to former teammate-turned-ESPN-analyst Kendrick Perkins. Teammate Kyrie Irving has also been solid whenever he’s been on the floor – both before and after serving an eight-game suspension in November.

The key for the Nets may be Ben Simmons whom head coach Jacque Vaughn challenged.

Vaughn Challenges Simmons

“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.”

The numbers suggest that Simmons can and has been making an impact in all of those areas. Brooklyn has been surprisingly good at the rim defensively thanks largely to Nic Claxton’s breakout season. But their opponents are shooting 59% at the rim when Simmons is on the floor, per Cleaning The Glass — 5.7% worse – a good thing for the Nets – than when he sits.

His impact on the perimeter is less significant, perhaps due to his dual roles as point guard and center. But opponents are still seeing a 1.1% drop in their efficiency when Simmons is in the game.

Simmons also takes a meager Nets transition attack and makes it elite with his unique size and passing ability, turning a rebound into an easy outlet feed.

He has even been on the receiving end of some of those feeds.

The Nets add 2.0 points per 100 possessions in transition per game without Simmons ranking in the 30th percentile. With him, that number jumps to 5.2 points per 100 possessions and into the 92nd percentile. The issue for Simmons has been overcoming a rash of injuries after missing all of last season with a back ailment as well as struggles with his mental health.

Simmons Snakebitten

Simmons’ numbers take a jump when he goes from 20-plus to the 30-plus minute range from 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists to a 10.9/7.6/6.9 line. He has met or surpassed 30 minutes 11 times this season compared to seven times in the 20-minute range.

But outside of a five-game stretch that saw him average 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists with 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals, Simmons has reached double-digit points just once in his other six games above 30 minutes. His plus-minus is minus-7 in those games and plus-33 when he does score at least 10 points in a 30-minute window.

He has also only had one other string of 30-plus-minute outings and it came earlier in the year.

Vaughn knows it will only benefit the Nets to get the best version of Simmons both physically and mentally.

“If we can get him playing at that pace, thinking, ‘I’m not gonna waste any opportunity, no possessions am I wasting.’ That’s the mentality and the mindset we try to grab onto.”

Simmons The Lynchpin

It generally all starts and ends with Durant and Irving for the Nets. But Simmons is not far behind them and has had a dramatic impact on how effective those two can be. The Nets are plus-2.1 with the dynamic duo of Durant and Irving on the floor together which ranks in the 64th percentile.

They are plus-5.6 (83rd percentile) when Simmons is added to the mix and Vaughn is well aware of how fluid he allows them to be.

“He’s in the position where he’s playing against the guard on the ball defending, so that challenge for him out on the perimeter, but then at times because we play small…he’s the biggest dude out there on the floor. So he has to play kind of five-ish.”

If the Nets can get him to do those things at a high level consistently, watch out.