Nineteen minutes, 6 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in a preseason game.
You could say it’s nothing special. But you could also say it’s one of the most important stat lines in the NBA in recent years.
Ben Simmons is back.
After injury, mental health issues and management disputes kept him out of action for more than 450 days, Simmons suited up for the Nets on Monday night in a preseason game against his former team. , the Philadelphia 76ers, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I thought I was going to be nervous, but I wasn’t nervous; I was excited,” Simmons said after the game. “The only way to learn is to make mistakes. I had a few tonight.
With the caveat that this was a pre-season game, when the defense can be lax and the pace a little slower, Simmons looked quite comfortable and free-flowing on both sides of the ground, making in particular beautiful passes.
And he showed his unusual skills. As coach Steve Nash said after the Nets’ 127-108 loss, the 6-foot-11 Simmons plays center of defense and playmaker on offense.
Australian, Simmons was the first draft pick in 2016 after his freshman year at Louisiana State University. After missing a full season with a foot injury, he made his 76ers debut in 2017 and enjoyed four full seasons with the team, averaging 15-17 points and 7-8 assists. per game and top-notch defence. He won the rookie of the year award and had three all-star teams in four seasons.
But the 2020-21 season ended in disappointment, when Simmons passed up a seemingly easy dunk opportunity at the end of a decisive playoff loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 76ers star Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers expressed frustration with Simmons over the incident.
The piece also seemed emblematic of Simmons’ progress. Always excellent in defense, he never seemed to develop a great blow. In a game where 3-pointers have become increasingly crucial, he has taken just 34 in his career, making just five.
During that summer, Simmons demanded a trade. When he returned to the 76ers in October, he was kicked out of practice after refusing to participate in drills. He did not return to the pitch for the team that season, saying his absence was due to mental health reasons.
“I just wasn’t in the right place to play, I just couldn’t do it,” Simmons said on former player JJ Redick’s podcast last month. “I got kicked out of that practice that day, I actually spoke to Doc before practice and was like, Doc, I’m not ready, mentally I’m not ready. If he please just understand that I tried to let him know before.
In February, the 76ers finally traded him to the Nets in a deal that included James Harden on the other side. Soon after, however, he was diagnosed with back problems, and while there was hope he could return for the playoffs, he didn’t.
Now Simmons is back on the court and is counted on to be a key contributor for the Nets, who were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs last season.
“Ben is playing in a totally different unit than he’s played with in the past, a different style, so this is a big departure for him,” Nash said. “These guys haven’t played together so we have to go through that. It’s going to be ugly at times, but I thought as the half went on we started to see the potential.
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