Nash: Simmons ‘not going to be at his best’ yet

    Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets are doing everything they can to make Ben Simmons feel comfortable in his new surroundings after being away from an NBA floor for almost a year while dealing with back surgery and mental health concerns, but Nets coach Steve Nash acknowledged that what Simmons may need most is time.

“We’ll be patient with Ben because he is an incredibly talented and unique player, but he’s not going to be at his best in the short term and he’s just got to continue to slog through this period of returning to play and getting his confidence, timing and rhythm back.”

Nash and several Nets players have held to a similar refrain throughout training camp, but the comments have taken on a different tenor after Simmons struggled at times in his first two preseason games. In a combined 44 minutes, Simmons has scored 10 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out nine assists and committed eight turnovers. The larger issue for the Nets is that while Simmons is 5-for-9 from the field, he has shown little desire to take a shot that isn’t near the rim and has missed both of his free throw attempts so far.

“I think for Ben a lot of it is not just the understanding, it’s the reps,” Nash said after Tuesday’s practice. “He hasn’t played for a long time. He’s coming off of back surgery, so I think there’s some periods of indecision and confidence that he has to gain from playing. All of us do. We can’t take that much time off, join a new group and just figure it out Day 1, so he needs time.

For his part, Simmons has stressed patience having played in just two preseason games since asking for a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers following a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals. Nets star Kevin Durant remains outwardly confident that Simmons will get on track in short order.

“Just trust in him,” Durant said, when asked what he can do to keep Simmons’ offensive confidence up. “Pass him the ball when he’s open, tell him to be aggressive. I don’t do too much. I’m not here to be babysitting anybody. Ben knows that if he’s got a time to be aggressive, go be aggressive. Who gives a s— if you make it or miss it? We just like you being aggressive. [He can] tell me the same thing, so we’re always feeding each other that type of energy, encouragement.”

Durant said the encouragement about being more aggressive is a common theme for everyone on the roster, not just for Simmons.

“From me, him to [Kyrie Irving], to Cam [Thomas], we’re always talking to each other about ‘Look, we need to be more aggressive,” Durant said. “Look to score the ball, that’s the name of the game is putting the ball in the hoop. So when Ben is aggressive and get downhill and look for everybody and then put the ball in the rim it’s going to be a plus for our team. But I don’t have to tell him this every day, he knows what it is.”

When asked what the Nets can do to keep Simmons’ confidence up in case he does start slow in the regular season, Nash made it clear that the organization wants Simmons to know that they have his back.

“The number one thing is support him, be here for him,” Nash said. “Give him belief. I think we all believe in him and we all think he’ll make a huge impact, it’s just we got to give him time. We got to be patient with him. We hope it comes quickly, but in the event that it doesn’t, we just got to work through it, and stay patient and give him that confidence, because it’s not easy. I can’t reiterate it enough.”

Nash’s messaging has been consistent since the Nets dealt for Simmons just prior to the trade deadline last February. Publicly, Nash, GM Sean Marks, Durant and guard Kyrie Irving have stood behind Simmons at every turn.

“I think when we see him out there with his jersey on you think “He looks fine. He should be great,” Nash said. “And he will be at times, but at other times you have to understand he’s gone through a lot.”

Durant believes that once Simmons starts playing with more regularity and finds his role within the framework of his new team, everything else will fall into place.

“Just playing. Just getting more reps. Just building confidence,” Durant said. “He knows that we all trust him, but getting the reps under his belt. It’s nothing like playing NBA games, so you can work out and train and play pick up all you want, but there’s nothing like playing with the jersey on under them lights.”

While Nash wants Simmons to feel confident that the Nets are behind him, he laid out what he’s hoping to see from the talented guard as far as his playmaking ability is concerned.

“I think he’s got to be aggressive,” Nash said. “That’s where playmaking comes from. If you’re not aggressive, playmaking becomes hard, if you’re trying to put pressure on the rim, that’s when playmaking becomes easy. So getting him back to that burst, that athleticism, that ability to kind of just out-physical people, that’s a huge component of his playmaking, he’s not just going to come down and put his back to people and zip balls around the gym.

“He’s got to break the paint and make plays whether it’s in transition or in the halfcourt. And if the other role is that if he can get it on the short roll, and he’s breaking the pain in another scenario that’s also good for us because he is such a gifted playmaker in odd-man situations.”

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