16/04/2024
Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons and Trae Young in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Photo: Atlanta Hawks

In joining the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, Ben Simmons has been granted his wish. Now, he must take the opportunity with both hands.

Ben Simmons has been granted his wish. Now, he must take the opportunity with both hands.

For four months the Australian All-Star has held out from the team that drafted him, refusing to play in their 54 games so far in 2021/22. 

In truth, it’s a holdout that stemmed all the way back to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and one fateful pass from under the rim.

His refusal to attempt shots from outside the paint; his inability to make free throws; his passive demeanour on the offensive end. It had all caught up to him in the fourth quarter, not scoring the ball for 12 straight minutes when the game was on the line. 

Photo: Philadelphia 76ers.

Simmons’ lacklustre play culminated in words spoken and admissions made by his coach Doc Rivers and co-star Joel Embiid that irreparably frayed their relationships.

The Australian refused to suit up the Philadelphia 76ers again. He demanded a trade, and cut off all communication with the franchise and wider community over the off-season.

So now, after close to eight months of radio silence, Simmons finds himself in the best situation he could have asked for. A title contender alongside superstars he can co-exist with. 

His holdout worked perfectly, being traded alongside Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-rounders for James Harden and Paul Millsap. While he’s given up a majority chunk of his maximum $35 million USD contract for the season, it’s landed him in the ideal place for his skill set.

Why couldn’t Simmons and Embiid co-exist?

For years of their primes, Simmons and Embiid were superstar teammates that mixed together like oil and water. 

The Australian point guard is an open-court savant, operating like a modern-day Magic Johnson with space in front of him and shooters stretching lanes. 

He’s as willing a passer as you’ll find in today’s NBA, with the height and innate instincts to place the ball into his teammate’s shooting pocket without fail.

Playing with Embiid is like travelling back in time to 1980s basketball. He posts up more than any player in the league, slows the pace of the ball down on both ends, and lives at the free throw line.

Both ball-dominant players needed shooters spacing the floor so they could go to work, but neither player was willing to space the floor for the other.

Photo: Philadelphia 76ers.

What did work was their supreme defensive ability. The Sixers were one of the best defensive teams in the league, with Simmons the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year last season. 

He’s the NBA’s premier ballhound, making the lives of opposing guards miserable with his otherworldly footwork and reflexes for a man standing 6’10” (211 centimetres). 

His physicality and footwork would funnel ball handlers into uncomfortable driving lanes, where Embiid would lie in waiting ready to send their shot into the stands.

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The best assembly of shooters since the Durant Warriors

Now, Simmons can thrive as a distributor to the best assembly of shotmaking talent in the league.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are both members of the illustrious 50-40-90 shooting splits club, able to work adeptly on or off the ball and make shots from anywhere within the half-court. 

Patty Mills is shooting 42 per cent from three this season, while Seth Curry joins Simmons in Brooklyn as a career 44 per cent three-point shooter. The Nets are still confident of welcoming back Joe Harris later in the season as well, who shoots the ball at 44 per cent from deep in his career too.

It’s the greatest assembly of shooting talent since Durant joined Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State.

Photo: Brooklyn Nets

No longer will Simmons feel the pressure to be something he’s not.

All the Nets need from him is to find the open man and abuse mismatches when he gets them. He’ll be able to play on the ball and push the ball in transition.

He’ll also be asked to play as a big, setting screens for shooters to fly around, and stand the dunker’s spot to finish off plays where Irving or Durant draw a crowd.

The Patty Mills factor

From one Australian in Matisse Thybulle, to two in Irving and Patty Mills.

A steady influence on Simmons is exactly what Mills will provide to his compatriot. 

Mills is one of the true veterans of this Nets team and one of only a select few that have won a title on the roster. 

It’s hard to tell ostensibly if Mills will have a positive impact on Simmons, but given the Australian connection and Paddy’s proclivity to bring out the best in his teammates, there is no reason to think Simmons’ best isn’t ahead of him.

How is Simmons’ conditioning?

The biggest question lingering over the fresh trade is Simmons’ availability.

Reports throughout the season have varied from saying he’s in game-ready condition to he’ll need at least several months to be in shape and able to contribute.

While his physical condition is incredibly important if the Nets are to make a title push, Simmons’ mental health is what should be at the forefront of the Brooklyn coaching staff.

The most important thing for Ben from an emotional standpoint will be to see him happy and engaged.

Hopefully for the Nets’ sake, the rest will take care of itself.

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