It has been 15 months since Ben Simmons last played in an NBA game. His debut for the Brooklyn Nets represents one of the most highly anticipated returns in recent NBA memory.
Despite this, the three-time All-Star isn’t lacking confidence heading into the 2022-23 season. Simmons appeared on The Old Man and the Three podcast with JJ Redick and spoke on his expectations for the new-look Nets.
“This team right now is just a great fit for what I do and what I bring to the game,” Simmons said. “I feel like it’s Philly on steroids, kind of, in terms of what we had when you (Redick) were there and Marco (Belinelli) and Ersan (Ilyasova).”
Simmons is referencing his 2017-18 Philadelphia team that won 53 games, earning the third seed in the Eastern Conference. That team finished the season on a 16-game win streak, with All-Star center Joel Embiid missing the final eight games of that span.
During that year, Philadelphia frequently used lineups surrounding Simmons with three or more shooters in Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Marco Bellinelli, Ersan Ilyasova and more. The strategy allowed Simmons to orchestrate a free-flowing offense with his teammates running the floor, spotting up from 3, and reaping the benefits of his natural passing ability.
Saric had the most successful 3-point season of his career, shooting 39.3 percent from deep on 5.1 attempts per game, both career highs. Covington made the most triples of any season in his career while playing 80 games. After the 76ers acquired him in a trade, Belinelli shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range on a career-high 5.3 attempts per game. And Redick shot 42.0 percent on 6.6 attempts per game, the second-most of his career (he would set his career high at 8.0 attempts the next season alongside Simmons).
Since coming into the league in 2017, Simmons ranks second among all NBA players in 3-pointers assisted on, trailing Russell Westbrook by just 21. The former No. 1 pick spoke with Redick on his pass-first style and its benefits to team offense.
“That’s what basketball is to me,” Simmons said. “If I have JJ Redick and I can get him open and get a great shot for him, why would I not do that? Those are easy buckets. We’re trying to make that team guard everybody, not just one guy.”
He now steps into a Brooklyn situation tailor-made for his skill set. The Nets boast a lineup of sharpshooters far superior to the 76ers team Simmons referenced earlier. When handling the ball, the 6-foot-11 playmaker will be surrounded by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Royce O’Neale, and T.J. Warren. If you combine numbers from each of their last full seasons, that group shot 41.6% from beyond the arc on 2,457 attempts.
Outside of Redick (41.5 percent from 3-land for his career), the 2017-18 Sixers’ next best 3-point shooter was Belinelli (37.6 percent for his career). Besides Warren, every Nets player listed above has posted a higher career percentage from deep. Brooklyn also has two shooters above Redick’s career mark in Harris (43.9 percent) and Curry (43.9 percent).
Simmons will have far more room to operate after exchanging a post-heavy top option in Embiid for Irving and Durant. The Nets can play the Aussie in a point center role, surrounding him with four shooters to maximize his ability to drive and finish/facilitate. He can also be used as a screener for Irving and Durant to generate advantages in the short-roll. Brooklyn could utilize dribble handoffs in the mid-range with defenders sagging off Simmons as well. Given the group’s immense versatility, the offense has the potential to be extremely explosive.
Based on this information, you can see where Simmons was coming from with his “Philly on steroids” remark. When asked how teams are going to guard Irving, Durant and himself, Simmons had a simple response.
“I have no idea,” Simmons said. “You don’t guard Kevin, no one guards Kevin. Those guys are so incredibly talented and their focus is incredible, just seeing them work. But, yeah, no one’s guarding Kevin, or Kai.”
“It’s gonna be sick,” Simmons said. “I can’t wait, I’m so excited. I changed my number, got a new number, new jersey. I’m just looking forward to it. I think we have a special team and I think if we get it all together we’re gonna be champions. That’s the end goal.”
Fans and media will get their first look at Simmons in a Brooklyn uniform this season at Nets Media Day on Sept. 26. Brooklyn will begin training camp on the 27th ahead of its preseason opener against Philadelphia on Oct. 3 at the Barclays Center.