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!
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.