Ben Simmons
October 9,2022: Brooklyn Nets guard/forward Ben Simmons at Practice in the Park

Ben Simmons and the Long Road Back

Ben Simmons has become all too familiar with setbacks.

Throughout the summer and coming into this season, there was plenty of optimism surrounding Simmons and his return. Fans saw some flashes of his upside last year, but not too much of it. He played 42 games before injuries ended his season. Since then, he has been working his way back to the team and back to the NBA. Over the summer, he spoke of his journey with Andscape‘s Marc J. Spears.

“Sometimes I think about [my recent struggles]. I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a lot,’” Simmons said. “Sometimes I sit down and break it down. ‘That was exhausting that I was having to deal with all that.’ But I feel like there are different situations you can handle, and this is a good test for me. How much worse can it get?”

With what Simmons has gone through the past few seasons, the 2023-24 season represented new beginnings for himself and the Nets. So, how has he done?

That’s a question that has a lot of answers.

On the Court

There are a few ways to view Simmons’s numbers this season. On one hand, he was shooting about 53% from the field, which is not bad. When he did try to attack the basket with some assertiveness, fans saw some positives.

However, digging into the numbers a little more closely reveals a major cause for concern. Of Simmons’s 191 field goal attempts on the season, only eight have come outside the restricted area. Even when Simmons did get his shots up, he did not seek out much contact at the basket. As a result, he attempted just four free throws in six games. It has been a steady decline in free throw attempts for Simmons since his breakout 2018-19 season.

Trying to Make Things Work

There has been discussion about spacing when Simmons and Nic Claxton share the court. Fans saw some flashes of excellence between the two last season, but Simmons’s injuries halted those highlights. This season was supposed to answer the question of whether the two could work alongside one other. So far, the answers are not positive.

As evidenced by Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons, turnovers will pile up when there is no space to work with. As a Net, Simmons’s turnover rate has been sky-high for a player running the offense. Lineup data on Basketball Reference is admittedly wonky, but the Simmons and Claxton pairing did not rate positively when the two shared the court.

That hard roll to the basket by Simmons is something that has been few and far between while with the Nets.

Those sequences especially stand out when fans have seen what it looks like when he attacks the basket with force and determination.

It has not been all bad for Simmons. Coming into the season, the Nets made it a point to run and get out in transition more often. In prior seasons, the team was more deliberate on offense and played on the slower side. Although the Nets were middle of the pack in pace, they were second in fastbreak points before Simmons’s injury.

What’s Next for Simmons?

October 25, 2023: Brooklyn Nets guard/forward Ben Simmons dunks the ball vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. Image via the Brooklyn Nets.

Simmons has been out of action since early November. In that time, the Nets have figured some things out, but have fallen into a rut as of late. Brooklyn still has many more miles to prove it is a competitive team. At media availability on Dec. 22, Simmons shared what he’s been feeling during his absence.

“It’s probably one of the most frustrating points in my career just because I wanna be out there to help my team win and compete,” Simmons said. “But at the end of the day, it’s one of those things that’s a part of sports. Not every game’s promised. Injuries happen. Unfortunately, it happens. So, for me, it’s just focusing on what I can do now and doing what I can to get back on the floor and contribute.”

Jacque Vaughn is still a believer in Simmons and what he brings to the table.

“He’s in the video sessions, and he’ll have comments throughout the course of the game,” Vaughn said. “The ability to talk to his teammates to see the game from his vantage point, you want whether you’re hurt or injured or healthy. You want the group to be around each other whenever possible so that we can figure things out together.”

It appears that possibility is coming soon. On Jan. 25, Ian Begley of SNY reported that Simmons will play with the Long Island Nets before returning to the NBA hardwood as soon as Jan. 29 against the Utah Jazz. Simmons has been out since Nov. 6 and will join a Nets team in freefall, having lost seven of its last 10 games.

As Simmons works his way back, the Nets hope that he can bring some much-needed size and physicality to bolster their defense. There are still questions about his fit on offense and whether he can be relied upon, and those have to be answered before the Nets can determine their future. If Simmons can return to something close to his previous form, it will be the culmination of years of hard work and overcoming setbacks. If he can’t, the road ahead becomes even more uncertain. Time will tell.