The Brooklyn Nets are doing everything they can to make Ben Simmons feel comfortable in his new surroundings after being away from an NBA floor for almost a year while dealing with back surgery and mental health concerns, but Nets coach Steve Nash acknowledged that what Simmons may need most is time.
“We’ll be patient with Ben because he is an incredibly talented and unique player, but he’s not going to be at his best in the short term and he’s just got to continue to slog through this period of returning to play and getting his confidence, timing and rhythm back,” Nash said.
Nash and several Nets players have held to a similar refrain throughout training camp, but the comments have taken on a different tenor after Simmons struggled at times in his first two preseason matches. In a combined 44 minutes, Simmons has scored 10 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out nine assists and committed eight turnovers. The larger issue for the Nets is that while Simmons is 5-for-9 from the field, he has shown little desire to take a shot that isn’t near the rim and has missed both of his free throw attempts so far.
“I think for Ben a lot of it is not just the understanding, it’s the reps,” Nash stated after Tuesday’s practice. “He hasn’t played for a long time. He’s coming off of back surgery, so I think there’s some periods of indecision and confidence that he has to gain from playing. All of us do. We can’t take that much time off, join a new group and just figure it out Day 1, so he needs time.
For his part, Simmons has stressed patience having played in just two preseason games since asking for a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers following a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals. Nets star Kevin Durant remains outwardly confident that Simmons will get on track in short order.
“Just trust in him,” Durant said, when asked what he can do to keep Simmons’ offensive confidence up. “Pass him the ball when he’s open, tell him to be aggressive. I don’t do too much. I’m not here to be babysitting anybody. Ben knows that if he’s got a time to be aggressive, go be aggressive. Who gives a s— if you make it or miss it? We just like you being aggressive. [He can] tell me the same thing, so we’re always feeding each other that type of energy, encouragement.”
Durant stated the encouragement about being more aggressive is a common theme for everyone on the roster, not just for Simmons.
“From me, him to [Kyrie Irving], to Cam [Thomas], we’re always talking to each other about, ‘Look, we need to be more aggressive,” Durant said. “Look to score the ball, that’s the name of the game, is putting the ball in the hoop. So when Ben is aggressive and get downhill and look for everybody and then put the ball in the rim it’s going to be a plus for our team. But I don’t have to tell him this every day, he knows what it is.”
Nash’s messaging has been consistent since the Nets dealt for Simmons just prior to the trade deadline last February. Publicly, Nash, GM Sean Marks, Durant and guard Kyrie Irving have stood behind Simmons at every turn.
Durant considers that once Simmons starts playing with more regularity and finds his role within the framework of his new team, everything else will fall into place.
While Nash wants Simmons to feel confident that the Nets are behind him, he laid out what he’s hoping to see from the talented guard as far as his playmaking ability is concerned.