After having missed the whole of the 2021/22 NBA Regular Season, it was announced this week by NBA insider Shams Charania that Ben Simmons is targeting a return to the court next week. Simmons is expected to make his return sometime between games four to six (April 25-29) of the Brooklyn Nets first-round playoff match up against the Boston Celtics.
With Simmons expected to suit up for the first time next week, what can we expect from the three-time All-star and what role will he play for the Nets?
Simmons’ important role
Unlike during his time at the Philadelphia 76ers, where Simmons often had the ball in his hand and was expected to initiate the offence, with the Nets during these playoffs his primary role will be on the defensive end of the floor.
Simmons has a unique skill set, standing at 6-foot-10 with elite ball-handling and playmaking skills coupled with the ability to defend all five positions at a high level.
His role in Brooklyn these playoffs will be not to score but rather defend the opposing team’s best player. This will offer support to the likes of Kevin Durant who will be able to conserve energy on one side of the ball defending less damaging players.
Simmons is one of the best defenders in the NBA with his ability to defend on-ball, at the rim and use his high basketball IQ to read what the opposing team’s offense is doing to cut passing lanes. This has shown over his young career having twice selected as part of the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2020 and 2021, leading the league in steals in 2020 and finishing second last season in the Defensive Player of the Year race.
On the offensive end, Simmons will be able to play to his strengths, near the basket where the issues of him clogging the paint will not exist with the Nets having an array of shooters. When he does not have the ball Simmons can sit by the basket and serve as a lob or hand off threat as well as help attack the offensive glass for second chance points.
With the attention that Durant and Kyrie Irving draw and the space they create for others will aid Simmons by opening driving and cutting lanes to the basket for easy points.
Simmons passing abilities and court vision should also be on full display with the Nets having elite scorers in Durant and Irving, as well as Seth Curry, Goran Dragic and Patty Mills who are lethal from deep.
If Simmons does get into trouble having the likes of Durant and Irving to dish the ball to is a massive asset, with the two of them being some of the most elite tough shot makers in the NBA.
To put it into perspective, 65.7% of the shots Durant took during the regular season were classified by NBA.com as having tight defense, with the defender being within 2 to 4 feet. On these shots Durant scored at 48.8%, attempting a league high 13.8 shots a game.
Simmons should also help the Nets get fastbreak baskets, with his ability to rebound and push the pace. This could prove to be one of the Nets’ most damaging ways of scoring with Simmons court vision along with Brooklyn’s scoring talent, there should be plenty of wide open looks in transition.
How he can help them against Boston
With Simmons likely return being Game four or five against the Celtics, his addition will add a whole new dynamic to what the Nets can do on both ends of the floor. From his first minutes on the floor expect Simmons to immediately be assigned to defend the Celtics best player, Jayson Tatum.
Limiting Tatum’s impact offensively will be a huge part of helping defeat the Celtics with him being the focal point of their offensive, evident by his usage rate of 32.1% during the regular season.
Tatum this season took another step in his development, going from an All-star calibre player to a genuine top-10 player in the league as one of the best forwards in the NBA.
The Celtics superstar had an All-NBA First-Team worthy season where he averaged 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals a game and saw him honoured by winning the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February and Player of the Week four times.
It was not just on the offensive end where Tatum proved his superstar status but also defensively leading the league in defensive win shares with 4.6 along with the Celtics being the number one defensive team in the league.
The Nets have struggled to limit Tatum’s impact this season in the team’s four meetings during the regular season with him averaging 29.5 points on 48.1% shooting and 38.5% from three.
We have already seen the impact that Tatum had in Game 1 of their playoff matchup with no one able to stop him on his way to scoring 31 points along with eight assists on 50% from the field and 42.9% from deep along with the game-winning basket at the buzzer.
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Simmons should feel confident in being able to slow Tatum’s impact with the two having played each other 13 times, with Tatum averaging 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists, shooting 41.2% from the field.
Slowing down Tatum and making things more difficult for him on the offensive end will spill over into his efforts defensively. If Tatum needs to work harder for his baskets and exert more energy, he will then be more tired on the defensive end and unable to have the same impact.
This was something we saw happen to Simmons teammate Durant last playoff against the Milwaukee Bucks, where he had to work so hard on the offensive end, that he then had to take possessions off on the defensive end.
If the Nets can get past the Celtics with the help of Simmons, they will most likely play the Bucks in the second round, where Simmons can play a similar role but rather this time slowing down reigning Finals MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s impact.
Flexibility with line-ups
Simmons return also allows Nets coach, Steve Nash to play different line-ups which he did not have the ability to prior to his acquisition.
The most intriguing is a small ball lineup with Simmons at the five along with Durant and Bruce Brown as the forwards and Irving and Curry as the guards.
Much like the small ball line-up the Warriors played when they had Durant, the Nets would be able to do similar, but with Simmons assuming the Draymond Green role. Similar to Green, Simmons offers the defensive versatility that traditional centres cannot emulate due to being able to guard all five positions and switch everything on defence.
The opposing team would struggle to defend Simmons with him being too quick for a traditional centre but then too big for a guard to slow him down in the paint.
Simmons role is an integral part of making the small ball line-up work effectively with the ethos behind it that all five players can handle the ball, create their own shots, playmake for others and play at a high pace.
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