Is the tide turning for Ben Simmons and the Brooklyn Nets?
The Nets are charging towards the top of the Eastern Conference, and Simmons is enjoying the ride.
Ben Simmons has faced unrelenting scrutiny in recent years. It initially stemmed from a poor showing in the 2020-21 NBA playoffs, where the top seeded Philadelphia 76ers were upset by the Atlanta Hawks. When the three-time All-Star later sat out much of the 2021-22 season, and rumours swirled about a falling out with the 76ers, he became a prime target for criticism in the media.
The vitriol reached a climax when Simmons, after being traded to Brooklyn, teased a potential return ahead of the 2022 playoffs. When he ultimately didn’t suit up, and the Nets were eliminated in the first round, the Aussie became an easy scapegoat. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went so far as to label him the “weakest, most pathetic excuse for a professional athlete”, although such critics were later humbled when Simmons underwent surgery to correct a longstanding back complaint.
Simmons entered the 2022-23 NBA season looking for a fresh start, and on paper, he appeared to be a good fit for the star-studded Nets. Led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the squad was lacking a credentialed defender and a pass-first primary ball handler - two deficiencies that played right into Simmons’ strengths. But the 26 year old couldn’t quite replicate the form which saw him make three All-Star rosters; at least not from day one.
Brooklyn endured a disastrous start to the 2022-23 season, losing five of their first six games in the month of October. Simmons averaged 6.2 points throughout this stretch, and regularly found himself in foul trouble, averaging 4.3 personal fouls and fouling out twice. The all-round contribution was still there, as Simmons averaged 6.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists in October, but this wasn’t enough to silence the critics while Brooklyn kept accruing losses.
Simmons logged single digits in the points column for his first nine games, but a purple patch was just around the corner. On November 18 the Aussie found a major breakthrough against the Portland Trail Blazers, logging 15 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a game where teammate Irving was absent. Brooklyn won by a narrow 109-107 scoreline, and this game marked a turnaround in their season trajectory.
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