What Ben Simmons return could mean for Nets in first round

Ben Simmons
Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons takes warmups prior to the game against the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It seems all but certain that Ben Simmons will make his Nets debut after the series shifts to Brooklyn for Game 3 and Game 4. Which game he’ll be out on the floor for is still unclear, but it is coming.

The Nets have tried to keep a level-headed approach as new news reports each day paint a more optimistic picture for Simmons to finally play over two months after Brooklyn acquired him in a deal at the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline.

“There’s no other way than him to say, ‘I’m ready,’ especially after an absence this long,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said prior to Game 2 on  Wednesday. “So whenever he is ready, it’s gonna have to be on him to say, ‘I feel comfortable,’ ‘I feel ready to go,’ ‘I want to play,’ ‘I want to contribute.’ We can’t push him places when you have been out this long. It’s gotta be something where he’s definitely comfortable and ready to play.”

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But what exactly does that mean for a Nets squad trying to compete for an NBA title this season? Can Simmons be that effective jumping into the lineup mid-series in one of the most competitive matchups in the first round of the playoffs?

The biggest knock on Simmons has been his shooting ability, but that’s not what the Nets’ biggest need is after the start of the series. Simmons’ versatility to play just about every position has been something Nash has lauded since the Nets traded for him and his defensive prowess will be the biggest asset that he’ll bring, even in limited minutes.

It’s clear the Nets haven’t been rushing Simmons back onto the court, which is the smart thing to do. The question surrounding Brooklyn’s title window is a fair one, but Simmons is a long-term investment at just 25-years old and in the middle of a five-year contract that will keep him in Kings County until 2025.

So when Simmons does come back it will be in a limited role off the bench.

It has been nearly a year since Simmons last stepped onto the court, which makes it hard to say just what kind of impact he will have on the floor. What we do know is the defensive player that Simmons was in Philadelphia and that could be a big add for the Nets, who have struggled in that area during the season and have carried that over into the playoffs.

Last season with the 76ers, Simmons had a 106.1 defensive rating, which was tied for fourth-best. And with him in the lineup, the Sixers had a 107.4 defensive rating. Brooklyn’s defensive rating during the regular season was 112.8.

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Plus Simmons gives the Nets size that they desperately could use, especially after the dramatic difference in rebounding in Game 1. The point guard will be tasked with helping the defense and facilitating the offense, which will be a boost for the Nets against a talented team in Boston.

The decision on when Simmons can go will be a “collective decision” between the Nets medical team and Simmons, but he has made enough progress that it feels his return is imminent. Simmons did 4-on-4  work on Monday and a 5-on-0 walkthrough on Tuesday.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Game 4 was a realistic target date for Simmons, but that Game 3 hadn’t been ruled out either. The Nets have worked to keep the two-time NBA All-Defensive First Teamer clued in as much as possible.

“If he’s able to play at some point, having him kind of become as familiar as possible with what we’re doing, because things change from day-to-day,” Nash said. “You’re making adjustments, so having him be involved with all of that stuff, so if he is able to play at some point, he’s comfortable.”