100 Miles

Ben Simmons returned to the basketball court for the 2022-23 season, but he’s 100 miles away from the team he used to play for and the player he used to be.

The Ben Simmons Saga was well-publicized from his interior shooting hesitancy in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals to his abstaining from the entire 2021-22 season. He was traded during this sabbatical to the Brooklyn Nets, a chance for a fresh start despite being only 100 miles away from his former team.

However, now that he has finally suited up for the Nets, the returns have been less than in impressive.

A three-time All-Star in Philly, Simmons’ 2023 point-per-game average is just over half of what he produced in his final season with the Sixers. He finished the 2021 season averaging 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.6 steals a game. Oddly enough, that production was down from what he had done in prior seasons. In Brooklyn, he’s now churning out 7.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.

You might have noticed that his non-scoring box score stats have actually held form despite the season-long hiatus. Simmons has carved himself into a defensive playmaker role in the Borough. He’s still capable of defending any position, and he still has a great passing eye.

The issue is that he tends to use that passing eye to pass out of situations that All-Star Ben would be expected to score or create a shot out of. Instead of channeling Magic Johnson, Simmons has been channeling Draymond Green.

It’s certainly a choice by Jacque Vaughn and the Nets staff. Filling the Draymond Role is an admirable position to be in, and especially when Simmons has done that role very well this season. Frankly, though, it feels like a waste of such an athletic talent to not have him be a more willing scorer.

That’s especially apparent during this stretch where the Brooklyn Nets are without lead scorer Kevin Durant. Durant has been out for the past two weeks due to a MCL sprain and will be re-evaluated two weeks from now. He is eighth in the league in scoring, despite missing the last seven games, so the Nets have their work cut out for them to fill that absence.

Spoiler alert: They mostly haven’t. The Nets have gone 2-5 sans Durantula. Kyrie Irving has predictably taken up the leading scorer mantle, averaging 30.8 points per game over the last seven. That’s followed up with Nic Claxton’s 18.6 and Seth Curry’s 17.1.

While budding two-way interior threat Claxton and career microwave Curry should be applauded for their production, the 12.2-point game between leader and second place shows that this team is lacking a reliable second scoring option. This should be Simmons’ time to shine!

That was apparent in the Nets’ latest contest, a 137-133 loss to the 76ers. Irving came away with his now-customary 30 points, but it was Seth Curry that paced the Nets with a season-high 32 points!

Meanwhile, Simmons finished with just 12 points, going scoreless in the first half then scoring 10 in the third quarter. Per NBA Player Tracking, he received 63 touches — third-most of any Net — but he only attempted seven field goals. That’s a lot of passed up shots!

Yet he went 5-of-7 on those shot attempts, 71.4 percent from the field. That seems like a well the Nets should have gone to more often, rather that be schematically or of Simmons’ volition.

It’s rough to see such a highly-touted prospect like Ben Simmons, a No. 1 overall pick mind you, be reduced to a role player while still being just 26 years old. While his scoring services certainly aren’t necessary when KD and Kyrie are on the floor together, it’s apparent now that Durant is benched that the Nets sorely need another reliable 20-point scorer to keep The W Train going.

The Nets have a number of hard-working, reliable role players that can supplement their star’s production and even have the occasional big game. However, due to his athleticism and offensive skillset, Ben Simmons is the Net most equipped to step up and become a bigger part of the Nets’ offense.

I honestly don’t expect that to happen, even on the heels of tonight’s matchup hosting the Pistons, but I wanted to be on record saying that I feel it should.


NBA 2K22

How did NBA teams fair in calendar year 2022? What does it tell us about how the remainder of the 2022-23 could unfold?

Happy New Year!! The turn of the calendar may feel like turning a page for most people. However, the autumn-to-spring schedule of the NBA charges on.

But what if the NBA records were decided within the Gregorian-imposed construct of a single year? My curiosity led me to go through the standings and combine franchise records for regular season games played in 2022: the latter portion of the 2021-22 season and the current campaign up through New Year’s Eve. The results revealed some intriguing conclusions.

The Boston Celtics are the NBA’s King of the Hill for the year 2022. Their 60-22 record on the year leaves them as the lone team to hit the 60-win plateau. In the East, it places them a comfortable seven games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia.

It’s not too much of a surprise. The C’s notoriously turned their flailing 2021-22 season around shortly after New Year’s Day. After an anemic 17-19 start, Boston went 34-12 the rest of the way. They took this fortune into the playoffs by pulling off the only sweep of the postseason and reaching the Finals.

The offseason nor a controversy-induced coaching change were able to stoke the Celtics’ flame. Instead, they opened the campaign with a 26-10 start to the 2022-23 season.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit atop the West by winning percentage thanks to a 55-25 (.688). However, it’s the Phoenix Suns hold the most total wins in the conference with their 57-27 record. The Detroit Pistons set the floor in the East with their 28-60 ledger, while the Houston Rockets hold the league’s worst 2022 record at 20-62, picking up 10 wins each in both halves of the year.

While looking at the records and how both halves of the year composed them, I was also intrigued by the percentage differential between the Spring 2022 and Fall 2022 records. Which franchises have been consistent (or stagnant), which teams have dramatically improved, which teams have underwhelmed?

The Indiana Pacers earn the honor of most improved team, as their 20-17 second half record is a league-leading 30.1 percent improvement from their 11-35 first half record. After feeling like a rudderless ship for much of 2021-22, the trade deadline acquisition of Tyrese Haliburton as well as the draft-day additions of Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard seem to have injected new life into Rick Carlisle’s club.

Conversely, the Charlotte Hornets have the largest decline in the NBA between first and second halves. After finishing 2021-22 24-22, they began 2022-23 by going 10-27. A 25.1-percent drop between halves. Their tumultuous offseason saw them hire a retread coach and lose their star forward due to off-court legal issues. Once the ball actually tipped off, the team then faced extended injury stints from star players LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. Both have since returned, so perhaps there are better days for them in 2023.

In the West, the Sacramento Kings are the biggest improvement story. Their 19-15 second half mark is a 22.5 percent increase from their 15-30 first half record. Like Charlotte, the Kings also had a coaching change. In this case it worked for the better, bringing a more cohesive offense and increased defensive energy to California’s capital city.

The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, have the largest decline in the Western Conference. After going 37-10 to cap off a 64-18 2021-22 season, the Suns have gone a much more lukewarm 20-17 to start 2022-23, a 24.7-percent drop-off.

For starters, Phoenix has a gaping hole at the power forward position due to Cameron Johnson’s long-term injury and Jae Crowder’s personal holdout. Additional injury stints from Chris Paul and Devin Booker have also hamstrung Phoenix’s team depth on on-court consistency.

The Utah Jazz, however, haven’t had a problem with consistency. Their 19-20 second-half record is only 0.2-percent worse than their 23-24 first half mark, making them the most consistent team in the league. This is the case despite a coaching change, massive roster upheaval, and even new uniforms! With all that, Utah’s standing this year is seen as a huge surprise, while their record at the end of last campaign was seen as a massive disappointment.

New Years’ is always a time of reflection on the year that was, and it was interesting to do it with the NBA standings. If these reflections tell me anything, it’s that the Celtics, 76ers, and Bucks remain the teams to beat in the East, while regression from the West’s top teams has made left the position for the Left Coast crown wide open.