The Nets have a Ben Simmons problem. And there’s no simple solution.
Ultimately, Simmons is responsible for his own play — and his play to date has left a lot to be desired, beneath both his standards and what the Nets need from the former 76er as a running mate for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
“I am surprised at how he has struggled,” scout Michael VandeGarde told the Post. “If he thought Philly and [Joel] Embiid was tough to deal with imagine dealing with KD and Kyrie … and all the noise that has come with the Nets lately.
“All eyes are one him and the Nets and many are hoping they all crash and burn.”
Though it’s too early in Simmons’ return from missing all of last season to proclaim he’s finished, he’s clearly not on the right track.
Simmons, who has battled mental health issues, has yet to regain the explosion he has lost following back surgery. He also has to develop some offensive aggressiveness.
The Nets must also find a way to support Simmons and maximize his talent, whether that’s getting him to coexist with a non-shooting big or using him as a small-ball five surrounded by shooters. It involves not just their floor spacing, but his headspace.
“Ben and I work every day at this, trying to give him the confidence to go out there and be aggressive and try to get back to at least the feeling of joy on the court,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.
“He’s going to have to work himself into his own confidence and feel good about himself,” Irving said. “The reality is we’re just going to keep having to try this experiment every single night until we get the right recipe.”
There already has been plenty of mixing.
The Nets have used 71 lineups heading into their game Saturday against Indiana at Barclays Center. Only the Pacers, Spurs and Thunder have tried more combinations. Nash has been desperately searching for a way to get the best out of Simmons.
“A lot of it is mental,” Irving said. “A lot of it is pushing through what you feel like you’re capable of doing coming off injury.”
Though shooting has never been Simmons’ forte, athleticism has been. But one scout who spoke with The Post noted a less explosive player, one hesitant to shoot and afraid of being put on the free throw line. That’s a long-standing issue.
Another scout said Simmons isn’t likely to change, but should improve as the season draws on and he knocks off rust.
“Ben is what he is. I’d assume he’ll play better as it moves forward [but] he is reluctant to shoot and score and after this long in the league I don’t think that will change,” said VandeGarde, who owns a scouting service.
“He could and should be a 18-point, eight assist, eight rebound guy. … It definitely needs more time, but every game that passed [he] and the team gets crushed — and if Kyrie and KD don’t pull him along in the right way it won’t go well … and even if they do pull him along in the right way, it might not go well.
“Ben might have just said I don’t care any more after all the scrutiny on him; many people would. At some point he needs to just let it all go and play his brand of basketball.”
The last two games, Nash has experimented with taking Simmons off the ball and using him either as a playmaking roll man in actions with Irving and Durant, or giving him 24 minutes at center versus Dallas with Nic Claxton off the floor.
“When we have him at that small-ball five we’re able to switch a lot of pick-and-rolls. … We have a great chance of pushing the basketball on the offensive end and defensively just being sound,” Irving said.
“We’re trying to look at different things, free those guys up to be more definitive and decisive in their roles when they’re out there together. We’ve got to develop both,” Nash said. “But definitely Ben at the five has got to be a part of our team going forward.”
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