What Ben Simmons Will Bring to the Nets

What Ben Simmons Will Bring to the Nets

                                                Picture Credit: NBA.com

Shop for NBA gear at Fanatics

In the hours leading up to the NBA trade deadline, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers completed a blockbuster trade that caused an earthquake of storylines and perhaps even a grand shift in the pursuit of an NBA championship.

The two contenders swapped disgruntled stars when word broke out that James Harden was headed to Philadelphia and Ben Simmons was Brooklyn-bound. The Nets now form a new big three with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons. Simmons will bring a variety of skills to his new team, but before I dive into those skills, let’s look at the events that transpired to get us to this point.

How’d We Get Here?  

After a disappointing game seven loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, Simmons and the Sixers appeared more than ready for a mutual breakup. The core duo of Simmons and Joel Embiid had certainly peaked. Embiid, along with Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, both seemed to indirectly point to Simmons as the scapegoat of their unsatisfying second-round exit last spring.

Typically, when a player and their agent are on the same page as the team regarding the readiness of a breakup, a new home is found for the player sooner rather than later. In the unique situation of Ben Simmons, Daryl Morey, and the Sixers, this was not the case.

Teams such as the Kings, Timberwolves, and Pacers supposedly all had legitimate interest in Simmons at some point this season and proposed their best offers. However, Morey made it very clear that he was in no rush to trade Simmons for pennies on the dollar and would wait to trade him until the summer if he truly had to. Morey was stepping up to the plate with one thought process, singles and doubles aren’t good enough in this situation, it’s time to swing for the fences.

On Media Day before the season started, Harden spoke to YES Network’s Ryan Ruocco and Sarah Kustok and mentioned that while his contract extension with the Nets had not been signed yet, he couldn’t see himself playing anywhere else. This is the NBA though, and colossal shifts in power and intention can occur in the time it takes you to read this sentence.

Harden’s frustration with the way the roster was constructed (primarily with a lack of shooters), a midseason losing streak, an increased role to keep his team in games, Kyrie Irving’s part-time playing status, and even an apparent dispute with Kevin Durant, led him to request out behind the scenes in hopes of reuniting with former Rockets General Manager and current Sixers president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey.

At a little after 1 p.m. EST on February 10, the deal that was rumored for weeks was finalized and sent shockwaves throughout the NBA. James Harden was now a 76er and Ben Simmons was now a Net.

Simmons brings talent to the Nets that has never been seen in their franchise history. So yes, he can’t shoot. We’ve seen the jokes and internet memes, but he can do just about everything else on the court that propels his team to win games.

This is a new beginning for Simmons: A new city, new teammates, even a new jersey number and nickname (Ben 10).

Simmons is a three-time NBA All-Star, two-time All-Defensive first team, former Rookie of the Year (2018), and made the All-NBA third team in 2020. These are his strongest abilities and why he will be an incredible addition to a Nets team with championship aspirations. 

Defense

The most notable aspect of Simmons’ game is his defense. When you listen to Nets GM Sean Marks discuss Simmons, the word that’s consistently brought up regarding him is “versatility.”

Simmons is undisputedly one of the best defenders in the league. While guarding big-bodied superstars like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the tallest of tasks for even the most lockdown of defenders, Simmons is certainly capable of holding his own against the best of the best.

Simmons’ defensive resume speaks for itself. He has made the All-Defensive first team twice, finishing fourth in the defensive player of the year race in the 2019–20 season, and second in 2020–21 (behind Rudy Gobert). His active hands are great for intercepting passing lanes and his 6’10″ height is a tremendous asset given the fact he sees the floor well and moves like a guard.

His defensive rebounding is also significant. In his short four-year career with Philadelphia, Simmons averaged 8.1 rebounds per game. Year after year, rebounding is always a large issue with the Nets, Simmons will aid in that department.

When you look at the Nets and their franchise history, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that after a few years in a Nets jersey, Simmons can easily etch his name among the best defenders the franchise has ever seen.

When Harden was a Net, the constant narrative surrounding the team was that they were an offensive juggernaut, but who would be stepping up on the defensive end when the games mattered most? Now, the Nets may finally have their answer.

Offense (Transition and Halfcourt)

While Simmons’ offensive game is limited solely because of his lack of a reliable jump shot, he is still more than capable of getting his own on that end of the floor. Simmons likely isn’t going to be making opposing coaches break their clipboards in anger and call timeouts in frustration, but the new young Nets star has a knack for understanding his strengths and never trying to do too much. He understands his limitations and emphasizes playing to his strengths.

Most of Simmons’ points are scored on fastbreaks or while capitalizing on mismatches, a common occurrence considering Simmons is a 6’10″ forward who splits time in the backcourt and is often being guarded by guards 6’5″ and under.

Simmons will not be asked to score 20 points per game for the Nets to pull out victories against their conference foes. With Simmons on offense, you will see the stat sheet stuffed but a player who simply strives to grind out team victories.

Few are better than Simmons at creating open looks for his teammates, most notably shooters, just ask JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli.

Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Patty Mills, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Goran Dragić are now going to be the beneficiaries of Simmons’ wizardry in the playmaking department.

From the moment Simmons entered the league in 2016, he possessed a mature game that you typically would only see from NBA veterans. He understands the pace of an NBA game and knows when to speed up the tempo or slow the possession down.

The biggest change Simmons will bring to the Nets offense is regarding their style of play. The Nets will now be a team that runs in transition and plays with pace and tempo. With Harden as the primary playmaker, the Nets often found themselves operating in a halfcourt set and milking the shot clock for unnecessarily long.

Expect plenty of crafty finishes in transition, open teammates from three, and a more exciting brand of basketball once Simmons dons the Brooklyn black and white for the first time.

Positions/Continued Lineup Experimentation

The Nets have been experimenting with new lineups all season. There has been no continuity with the starting lineup or the bench unit due to the COVID outbreak in December, injuries to various key players, Kyrie’s banishment then eventual return to the team, and of course now the blockbuster deal to acquire Simmons.

Don’t expect the lineup experimentation to end anytime soon. At this point, it’s not unrealistic to believe that Steve Nash will be trialing different lineups until the playoffs begin.

With the additions of Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and Goran Dragic, the Nets have more depth than they’ve ever had in the Durant/Irving era. The team has 11 or 12 legitimate NBA players who can make a case for a spot in the playoff rotation, but all won’t make the cut.

The Nets have hinted that they would prefer Irving to bring the ball up the floor while Simmons operates primarily as the power forward who works in the post, but this is still to be determined until the whole squad is healthy and together at once.

Whether it’s as the point guard or power forward, when Simmons is inserted into the lineup, expect him to bring two attributes the Nets have lacked for years: size and toughness.

Conclusion

If you listen to discourse between NBA fans, you will hear plenty of chatter and jokes that Simmons can’t shoot. While this concern may be true, let’s focus on what Simmons does bring to the table rather than his shortcomings.

His defense, rebounding, playmaking, and transition play will jolt a veteran Nets team that doesn’t currently play with the fast-paced transition mentality that Simmons strives in. Even just speaking from the perspective of an NBA fan, arenas are buzzing and loud when exciting plays occur. These plays are commonly sparked on transition offense and when an NBA star is being clamped, two things Simmons prides himself on.

Expect Simmons to play the role that Draymond Green plays for the Warriors but while carrying a larger scoring load than Draymond does. It doesn’t sound too unrealistic to assume that Simmons will likely average between 13-17 points per game with the Nets, maybe a tad more if Nash’s offensive system complements his style of play well.

The Nets and Sixers rivalry sprouted in 2019, when the two teams (that have since undergone massive makeovers) faced off in round one of the playoffs. Ben Simmons going at it with Jared Dudley and two riled up fanbases clinging to the edge of their seats in tight contests for hopes of bragging rights over their division foes. After the immense trade, the rivalry has not just been resurrected but reborn.

The reason Simmons will experience success in Brooklyn is because his strengths perfectly complement the skills of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Losing a player of Harden’s caliber can be detrimental to any team, but in Brooklyn’s situation, they’re almost back at square one (in a good way), let me elaborate.

When Durant and Irving signed in Brooklyn, they were joining a team with upcoming young talent in Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris. Durant and Irving headed to a team with young talent and were determined to make the city and the culture their own. They strived to bring a new era of winning culture and winning basketball to the borough.

By losing Harden, but gaining Simmons, along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and two first round picks that can be used as trade bait in the offseason, the Nets are in no situation to panic. You can argue that they’re better positioned to win a title now than pre-Harden trade.

The New York City mandate is expected to change in March and Kyrie Irving is on the verge of becoming a full-time player once again. If the Nets maintain their health throughout the playoffs (that’s been a big if for the past two seasons), this team is deep, versatile, and capable of going eye to eye with the goliaths of the association.

To summarize this deal for the Nets, they sacrificed more star power for a much more well-rounded and complete team. The team post-trade deadline is much more equipped to deal with injuries and replace any lost depth. Simmons will be a key fixture in the Nets plans now and likely for years to come.

From the moment Simmons hears his name called in the starting lineup in front of his new home crowd at Barclays Center, he will be expected to play a huge role in assisting two NBA superstars and bringing the Nets their first-ever NBA championship. That’s a tall task for the Australian-born former number one overall pick from LSU, but he’s got superpowers, he’s no ordinary kid, he’s Ben 10.