Ben Simmons did not just pass this up... pic.twitter.com/4JyM7ZHNkJ— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 21, 2021
It was so memorable ( in a bad way) that it became a viral meme. We all know what happens next at this point. Doc Rivers said he wasn't sure if Simmons was a championship-caliber point guard. Simmons would not play another game for the 76ers and sat out until finally being traded to the Nets in the James Harden blockbuster trade.
Unfortunately for Simmons, the start of his Brooklyn Nets career didn't go much better. After being traded to the Nets, Simmons didn't play in one game that season. It was thought he might suit up for the Nets playoff series vs. the Boston Celtics, but Simmons never made it to the court.
The Nets reportedly were unhappy with this development and met with Simmons agent Rich Paul to discuss how they could get Simmons back on the court.
It seemed Simmons was headed to another messy divorce before he even started on the court. Then came the news during the off-season that Kevin Durant was demanding a trade out of Brooklyn as he did not see eye to eye with Steve Nash or the general manager.
Phoenix and Miami are among two of the teams that Kevin Durant has on his wish list, sources tell ESPN, but the Nets plan to move Durant where they can get the best possible deal. With four years on his contract, there's no shortage of teams willing to unload assets for Durant.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2022
After the Nets could not find a suitable deal for the future Hall of Famer and Steve Nash was fired, it seems that the situation has calmed down for the time being.
The Nets began to get their act together slowly, and a lot of that had to do with interim head coach Jacque Vaughn. The Nets are 27-13, winners of 18 out of 20, and have been the best team over the last several weeks. Everything seemed to be going the Nets way finally, and then Jimmy Butler inadvertently fell backward into Durant's knee during their 102-101 win vs. the Heat. Adrian Wojnarowski said the injury might not be as bad as it looked. The best case is Durant will miss two weeks. Worse case is a month or more.
There's optimism Durant will miss less time than he did with a six-week absence last season; a significant sigh of relief around the Nets and their MVP candidate. https://t.co/MrfAPtU90W— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 9, 2023
The Nets went 5-16 last year without their superstar forward, including an 11-game losing streak. With Durant out for at least a few weeks, this opens the door for someone outside of Kyrie Irving to step up, and that player needs to be Ben Simmons.
Ben Simmons play during Durant's absence can go a long way to repair his reputation.
Even with Simmons’ contribution in a positive way to the Nets’ recent success, it is still a lingering doubt about his game long term. Of course, some of that can only be answered in the playoffs. Stepping up his game now could make a huge difference.
Simmons will never be the type of player to take over a game scoring. That has never been his best attribute. So far this season, he is averaging the lowest points per game of his career at 7.7. A lot of that is due to playing with two of the best offensive players of all time, but some of it is Simmons still working his way back from past injuries.
Do the Nets need him to start scoring 20 points a game? Of course not, but they need him to increase his offensive output and at least become a threat on the offensive end. More than anything, they need him to help get his teammates easier shots. The gravity Irving and Durant draw is usually the Nets best offense, making it easier for everyone on the court with them. Of course, most of that falls on Irving with Durant out, but he can't shoulder the entire offensive load.
Simmons is also averaging a career-low in assists at 6.0, but with Durant out, he needs to bring back some of the playmaking skills that made him an All-Star. At his peak, Simmons could control every aspect of the game. He was a dynamic passer, an elite defensive player who could guard any position and a force on fast breaks. We have seen glimmers of that this season, but now is the time for him to approach All-Star Ben Simmons if the Nets are to stay near the top of the East.
Games, as he had on Nov. 20, have been few and far lately as he has taken a step back as Irving and Durant continue to dominate every game.
Ben Simmons put up a season-high 22 PTS while shooting 84.6% from the field to lead the @BrooklynNets to victory! #NetsWorld— NBA (@NBA) November 21, 2022
@BenSimmons25: 22 PTS (11-13 FGM) | 8 REB | 5 AST pic.twitter.com/ELBiNYsZFw
That type of game is what the Nets will need going forward until Durant is back in the lineup. Of course, it will help that TJ Warren is working his way back, as he can help take some of the offensive burdens off Irving, but Simmons can change the game on both sides of the court.
The Nets have three days off until their next game on Thursday vs. Boston on TNT. That gives them time to implement in more plays for Simmons as he still tries to work his way back to his All-Star days. If Simmons can elevate his game to anywhere close to where it was just a few years ago, it will not only help the Nets long-term once the playoffs start, but it will go a long way to repair Simmons reputation in the NBA.