Ben Simmons has not played basketball during the 2021-2022 NBA season. Simmons infamously struggled in the Philadelphia 76ers’ second round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks last year, and then requested a trade in the offseason. The Sixers refused to trade their All-Star forward for anything less than a superstar, and Simmons responding by holding out of training camp by citing mental health issues. Philly eventually got its wish at the trade deadline when James Harden forced his way out of Brooklyn, but we still haven’t seen Simmons in the Nets uniform.
Simmons’ season debut is apparently going to happen in middle of the NBA playoffs. Simmons is planning to return between Game 4 and Game 6 as the No. 7 seed Nets prepare to take on the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics, according to NBA insider Shams Charania.
Nets leadership says it isn’t counting on Simmons to return. Head coach Steve Nash said “There’s a chance Ben comes back; there’s a chance he doesn’t come back.” Meanwhile, Kevin Durant told reporters he’s not expecting Simmons to play because he doesn’t want to put any pressure on him.
Simmons has been battling a back injury since he was traded to Brooklyn. The idea of Simmons playing his first game in 10 months with the Nets potentially facing elimination seems like an awfully sticky scenario. Here are a few reasons why a Simmons return feels like a dicey situation for both himself and the Nets.
Simmons hasn’t started playing 5-on-5 yet
Hours before Charania reported Simmons’ targeted return date, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said there was optimism the 25-year-old forward could play in the playoffs. At the same time, Windhorst said Simmons has not started playing five-on-five yet. That seems like an issue.
Brian Windhorst says the hope is for Ben Simmons to ramp up to playing 5 on 5 by the end of the week.— Erik Slater (@erikslaterNR) April 14, 2022
“I’ve heard nothing but pessimism on Simmons for the last 7 weeks but that has changed dramatically in the last few days.” pic.twitter.com/Q3FglsBpPS
Ben Simmons would be joining a brand new team at the most intense time
What’s more difficult than making your season debut in the NBA playoffs after being out for 10 months? Let’s go with this: making your season debut in the NBA playoffs for a brand new team after being out for 10 months.
We saw the New Orleans Pelicans decide to keep Zion Williamson on the sidelines even though he’s doing 360 dunks pregame because they don’t want to ruin the flow and continuity of the team that forced its way into the play-in tournament. The idea of Simmons’ fit with these Nets is equally conceptual at this point.
It’s easy to see Brooklyn’s shaky defense and think inserting Simmons into the lineup would help on that end of the floor. At his peak, he’s one of the best defenders in the league, so, sure. But playoff basketball also requires all five guys to be in sync on both ends of the floor, and Simmons literally hasn’t played a second with his new teammates yet. The fact that he could debut in a potential elimination game or a close series is even scarier.
Ben Simmons just famously struggled in the playoffs
Last time we saw Simmons on an NBA floor, he refused to even attempt a wide open dunk in Game 7 of the Sixers’ loss to the Hawks. Now he’s apparently planning to make his return on the same stage that ruined his confidence.
It’s worth noting that Simmons was excellent in the first round of the playoffs against the Washington Wizards last year before his disaster of a series against the Hawks. While Simmons was out for the 2020 playoffs in the bubble, the same thing happened in the 2019 playoffs under less dramatic circumstances: Simmons was very good in the earlier rounds of the playoffs before struggling a bit against the Raptors in a series Philly lost.
One reason why Ben Simmons’ playoff return could work ....
Ben Simmons is really good at NBA basketball! Some people have forgotten that after a year off.
Simmons was named an All-Star three times in four seasons. He was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting just last season. He’s an excellent and versatile defender who can also add value offensively with his ability to push the ball in transition and make sharp passing reads. Of course, he also can’t shoot threes (at all) or free throws (confidently).
But a team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant? Maybe just grabbing some rebounds, defending on- or off-ball, and hitting some open passing windows is enough to make an impact. It’s not like Brooklyn needs Simmons for scoring.
It still seems like too much to ask of Simmons for him to return in the playoffs. For his part, he seems to be hinting that he’s ready to get going.
Ben Simmons usually tweets the emoji before he plays in a game pic.twitter.com/wtbYbhRAAY— Guru (@DrGuru_) April 13, 2022
Of course, Simmons also looks like he’s spent way more time playing video games than he has playing basketball lately.
Ben Simmons is 23 hours deep on his Call Of Duty game.— Broad Street Buddies (@BroadStBuddies) April 10, 2022
h/t Seth Curry's discord server (link in replies) pic.twitter.com/mPNuCZlPSA
Given that the Nets are the underdogs to Boston in this series either way, maybe Brooklyn needs all the talent on the floor it can get. We always liked the conceptual fit of Simmons on the Nets. It just seems like a bad idea to do it at this point in the season.