How does Kevin Durant’s injury impact Ben Simmons? Nets need more offense with MVP candidate sidelined

Quick Bit: Now, with the Nets temporarily unable to rely on Durant’s heroics, the spotlight on Simmons will get much brighter.

Full Story:

Back in late December, when the Nets were running off what ended up being a 12-game winning streak, ESPN’s Nick Friedell made an appearance on “The Ryen Russillo Podcast.” During that conversation, Friedell, who knows Brooklyn as well as any NBA reporter, discussed how Ben Simmons has been able to fly under the radar.

“Ben Simmons doesn’t even talk after some games right now because they don’t need him to be up there,” Friedell said. “He doesn’t go up to the podium. People don’t bother him at his locker stall. … With this team, with Kevin [Durant] and Kyrie [Irving], there isn’t so much pressure.”

Friedell then made a statement that proved to be rather prophetic.

“The question I would have is, OK, if Kevin rolled an ankle or something and had to miss a couple weeks, or Kyrie disappeared again for a stretch of games, and Simmons had to elevate in the pecking order… I mean, offensively, if they needed him to do more, would be able to on a more consistent basis?”

We’re about to find out.

Vote now for your favorite NBA All-Star starters!

Durant suffered an isolated MCL sprain of his right knee during the Nets’ win over the Heat on Sunday. Brooklyn announced that he would be re-evaluated in two weeks, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he is expected to miss approximately one month of action.

It’s a tough blow for a team that was coming together under coach Jacque Vaughn. Durant was firmly in the MVP conversation before his injury, averaging 29.7 points per game on 55.9 percent shooting from the field. He had been playing arguably the best basketball of his life.

Now, with the Nets temporarily unable to rely on Durant’s heroics, the spotlight on Simmons will get much brighter. Brooklyn will lean heavily on Irving, of course, but Simmons can no longer float through games offensively.

In 30 games this season, Simmons is averaging just 7.7 points and 6.0 field goal attempts, by far the lowest marks of his career. He has hit double figures 11 times — that’s the same amount of games in which he has scored four points or fewer. His usage percentage has plummeted from 21.5 over four seasons with the 76ers to 14.4 with the Nets.

Those drops are partly the product of the three-time All-Star learning to play with a new team and understandably taking a backseat with elite creators like Durant and Irving on the floor. And hey, Brooklyn isn’t far behind Boston in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

But Simmons also hasn’t been consistently aggressive enough. Of his 106 made field goals this season, 64 have been assisted. He is often completing easy plays off passes from his teammates. (It’s worth noting that Durant has dished out a team-high 18 assists to Simmons.)

And it’s not as though Simmons is incapable of attacking the rim on his own.

In the Nets’ Nov. 20 win over the Grizzlies, Simmons scored a season-high 22 points on 11-of-13 shooting. He was decisive with the ball, pushing the pace in transition and using the space in front of him in the halfcourt as a runway to the rim.

Why can’t Simmons operate with that kind of force all the time? The same issue that hung over his head in Philadelphia has followed him to Brooklyn: free throw shooting.

Simmons is averaging 1.5 free throw attempts per game and shooting a putrid 41.3 percent from the charity stripe, well below even his standards. From Nov. 27 through Jan. 11, Simmons made one — yes, one — free throw and missed his other 12 attempts.

Vaughn has downplayed Simmons’ lack of shots, but if he cannot jump over the mental and/or physical hurdles preventing him from making free throws at a respectable rate, Simmons will simply never reach his full potential. And, as a result, the Nets will have a lower ceiling.

No one is asking Simmons to single-handedly fill the Durant-sized void in the lineup. He can still be effective with his passing, rebounding and defensive versatility.

He is higher in the offensive “pecking order” now, though. Let’s see how he handles the pressure.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

Similar Posts