Ben Simmons had never come off the bench a single time in his entire NBA career before this season. But it looks and sounds like he’d better get used to it.
Simmons came off the bench for a third consecutive game in Monday’s 124-106 loss to the Knicks. He saw his minutes decline for the fourth straight, logging just 12:41 — even that total padded by garbage time minutes in the fourth quarter.
“What we want from each guy is to give everything, every ounce that they’ve got, every single game,” Jacque Vaughn said. “And all 16 guys are in that bucket.
“And trying to figure out what lineup fits around Ben, what position fits for Ben, how we can make him look good at every opportunity. That’s the goal, and I’m still trying to figure that out. That’s on me to figure it out. But overall as a team, we’re going to try to find lineups to figure it out.”
It’s imperative that they do.
They owe Simmons $37.9 million next season and $40 million in 2024-25, an egregious sum for a backup and an unacceptable amount for a player playing this poorly.
Simmons had just two points, three boards and four fouls against the Knicks. While Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving could mask the weaknesses of Simmons playing at his best, the Nets can’t rely on him at his worst.
How can Vaughn find a non-star lineup that works with Simmons?
“It’s gonna be some work that we have to do, because you just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like,” Vaughn said. “You put another big next to Ben, then you’ve gotta figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put another playmaker next to Ben, then you’ve gotta figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball.
“Then if you go small with Ben, then you’ve gotta figure out can you rebound enough with him. So the challenges are ahead of us. We’ll look them head on. We’ll figure it out. We have the personnel to figure it out. Whether it is me mixing and matching throughout different pieces of the game and allow him to have a group and run with a group. That part we’ll figure out. But you see the challenges that lie ahead.”
And they’re daunting. Simmons is averaging seven points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists. But his inability to shoot and unwillingness to drive are a problem, his .439 free-throw percentage scaring him away from contact.
As a result, he’s seen his playing time slashed. The Nets acquiring other long-armed capable defenders have made him redundant.
“Everything’s been changing all year, so it’s hard to really understand what’s going on. But hopefully we find some rhythm and consistency,” Simmons said after morning shootaround. “It’s different. It’s a different experience [coming off the bench]. So whatever the team needs from us to win, I’m willing to do that.
“It’s a little frustrating trying to find some rhythm and consistency. But that’s what it is at this point right now. Guys have been in and out due to injuries, trades, so there’s been a lot of different things that factors into it. Hopefully now we get a little bit of a stretch where we can find some rhythm and consistency.”
Three weeks ago, Simmons said he was OK getting his fourth-quarter minutes cut as long as the team was winning, but would have a “problem” if it wasn’t. When asked Monday how Simmons had taken their conversation, Vaughn just said he told him he was going to do whatever was in the best interest of winning.
“I’ll be honest with the message,” Vaughn said. “You might not like the message, anyone that I give the message to, but 10-15 years from now you’ll know that I was honest and up front with you.”