The Brooklyn Nets (27-17) are sliding and fast, dropping four straight games in the wake of Kevin Durant’s knee injury. Barring some miraculous turnaround, Durant is not stepping back onto the court anytime soon so they need to figure things out fast.
That means getting more from the other high-salary players on the roster.
Guard Kyrie Irving dropped 30 points in the latest loss, a 117-112 loss to the Phoenix Suns with 21 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. But Ben Simmons finished that same game with just seven points chipping in six assists and four rebounds before getting tossed in the third quarter for arguing with an official.
Simmons’ production in Durant’s absence has been particularly troubling for Brooklyn leading to one of his former coaches getting on the three-time All-Star’s case.
Former HC to Ben Simmons: ‘Get More Aggressive’
“Ben has been doing a good job in other areas,” said Kevin Boyle, head coach at Monte Verde Academy in Florida, per Adam Zagoria of NJ.com, “but I think without question it would be helpful to the team and increase their chances to win if he would get more aggressive…just to keep people honest.”
He only played in three of those games and failed to score a single point in one of them.
To be fair to Simmons, his production had begun to tail off even before Durant went down with the 6-foot-10 big man averaging 4.6 points on 47.5% true shooting in the five games before Brooklyn’s top player went down.
Before that, though, Simmons averaged 8.6 points on 54% true shooting over a seven-game stretch near the end of the Nets’ 12-game winning streak. He had four double-digit scoring performances including a double-double in that span.
He has scored at least 10 points just once in the last eight games, a 10-points, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in a 106-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs before Durant’s injury.
“You don’t want people…game planning against that,” said Boyle who also coached Irving.
Ben Simmons: ‘I Know Who I Am’
“I think it starts with being aggressive knowing that my team needs that,” Simmons told reporters during his postgame availability after that scoreless performance in 26 minutes of a 109-98 loss to the Boston Celtics. “I think I’m giving the ball up way too many times when I know who I am. I know I need to get to the rim and get buckets.”
Simmons, 26, is still owed another $78-plus million over the next two years.
There has been speculation that the Nets could look to move him to fortify the roster but nothing has been considered imminent. They have, however, been linked to several offensive-minded power forwards such as Christian Wood of the Dallas Mavericks.
Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN pointed to Simmons’ lack of drives as a cause for concern amid his lower-than-expected numbers this season.
“Ben Simmons has been great for them defensively,” began ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelbourne. “With Nic Claxton and Ben Simmons, they have a really good defense this year. But, Ben Simmons used to drive to the basket…He was fifth in the NBA in drives to the basket five years ago. He used to average around 10 drives to the basket per game. This year, 3.5 drives a game. That’s not enough for a guy like Ben Simmons.
Nets Need Something to Give
Durant is expected to be reevaluated next week but his timetable to return is still unknown at this point as he approaches his initial two-week mark for re-evaluation. The Nets built up enough cushion that their skid has only caused them to slide to fourth in the jumbled-up Eastern Conference.
“They’re not going to do it as much in a one-game scenario but they’re going to do it in a series,” Boyle said of teams ignoring Simmons on offense, “it’s important at this point with KD out that he turns that corner and starts getting back in double-figures.”
Things could get a lot worse in a hurry if they are not careful, though.
Brooklyn is just three games out of being amongst the Play-In Tournament Field. And while Durant should be back in time to lift them out of that, their margin for error is getting slimmer.