At 27-years old, Ben Simmons is reportedly finally fully healthy, and confidence is at an all-time high. SportsNet New York’s Ian Begley reported that “Simmons is 100 percent healthy and still expects to be a full participant on the first day of Nets training camp,” Begley wrote while observing that he “hasn’t encountered any setbacks throughout the summer.”
During the past few years, the former number 1 pick has been plagued with injuries and media scrutiny. As Simmons entered the league, he had to live up to high expectations, with many hyping up his potential by comparing him to the “next LeBron James.”
After winning Rookie of the Year, Simmons was an All-Star in three straight consecutive seasons, averaging 15.9 points (56% FG), 8.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game as a Philadelphia 76er.
However, the hope of Simmons becoming an elite superstar has since been dampened, as back/knee injuries and mental health issues caused Simmons to miss the 2021-2022 season, first with the Philadelphia 76ers and then with the Brooklyn Nets after getting traded. Provided that, fans have grown accustomed to seeing Simmons in fashionable outfits and wearing designer sunglasses more than catching sight of him in a uniform the last couple of seasons.
Certainly, the player the 76ers drafted first in the 2016 draft, came into the league with a skillset and playmaking ability that not many possess at 6-foot-10. Not to mention, often overlooked, Simmons has always been an asset on the defensive side of the ball, by having the capability of guarding all five positions on the court.
No one questions the potential of the six-year player, however, the lack of effort, unavailability, and indecisiveness to shoot the basketball allows skeptics to question if he is worth anything close to his current contract of 5 years/$177 million dollars. The biggest knock on Simmons has always been “he won’t/can’t shoot.” Nevertheless, this was partly overlooked in his first few seasons in the NBA, as he can contribute in many other ways, such as facilitating and playing solid defense.
Simmons’ versatility, passing ability, and overall talent allowed him to grab attention coming into the NBA as a point-forward with capabilities of turning around a losing franchise. In general, the LSU standout was seen as a player who could help contribute to winning games right away for the Philadelphia 76ers, who were seen as one of the worst teams in the league for 4 straight seasons, from 2013-2016.
Notably, Simmons sat out his first year, in the 2016 season, due to an injured right foot. Thereupon during Simmons’ “rookie year” in 2017, he met expectations, and led the 76ers to a 52-30 record, finishing 3rd in the East.
By and large, Simmons made an immediate impact playing alongside a young Joel Embiid, while bringing promise and a glimmer of hope to a franchise that had been patiently “trusting the process.” Some may look back at the young Aussie and see he was destined for greatness, as he went on to make 3 All-Star appearances and was a 2-time selection for NBA All-Defensive first team. Although, important to note, due to a lack of a jump shot, and low scoring totals, the previous comparisons to LeBron died down quite a bit.
Furthermore, the failure to get past the Eastern Conference semifinals during the first four years of Simmons’ career started to weigh on the team’s support. At the same time, Simmons started dealing with on-and-off back and knee ailments which caused him to miss games. All came to a head, when Simmons had requested a trade from the Sixers during the 2021 offseason.
Ultimately, this decision came after Simmons put up a disappointing performance in Philadelphia’s Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs. And this led to the famous 2021-2022 holdout season, where Simmons refused to fully participate or play in regular-season games, indicating his mental health as the reason.
Particularly, this led the Sixers to trade Simmons to the Nets, in February 2022, in the deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia. Then, Simmons continued to sit out in Brooklyn, citing knee and back issues before undergoing microdiscectomy surgery for a herniated disk on May 5 of 2022. To note, this surgery takes around 18 months to make a full recovery. This means that it was projected that Simmons wouldn’t be fully healthy until a month into the 2023-2024 season.
Last year, Simmons’ stats showed the effects of injury as he played in 42 games and averaged only 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in 26.3 minutes per game. And as the back issues lingered, Simmons notably missed the playoff series vs. his former team in the 2023 playoffs.
On the negative side, when looking back on all of the fault findings of Simmons’ career, there are many, especially fans in Philly, who threw shade at Simmons for his disappointing performances in the playoffs and for sitting out games. Was the potential downfall, of this magnitude, relating to a superstar in the making ever expected? While coming into the league, the sky was seemingly the limit for the young player from Melbourne, Australia.
Albeit, some casted doubt on the LSU prodigy by saying he lacked grit. ESPN’s lead NBA Draft analyst, Jonathan Givony, actually somewhat foreshadowed the shortcomings of the number 1 overall draft pick, “Simmons’ lack of competitiveness in some crucial games has raised questions about his character as a basketball player.”
Despite stuffing the stat sheet in college and his rookie season, it seemed Simmons didn’t always show the winning attitude that it takes to win at the highest level. In other words, sitting out games and making excuses, have led many to view Simmons as “the boy who cried wolf.”
It does appear to the average fan in Philly that Simmons should have taken more shots, been more aggressive, and been more available. That is to say, it is all about perspective, for no one knows what is going on more than the player himself. With all the hearsay over the last few years surrounding Simmons’ career, it is reported that as he enters his 7th year in the NBA, there is a zeal to get back to being a productive NBA star. This comes on the news, that Simmons is ready to compete for the starting point guard position on the Brooklyn Nets this upcoming season.
Begley noted that the star “has completed the rehab portion of his offseason and is now solely focused on skill work and conditioning as he prepares for 2023-24 training camp.” With the good news coming out that Simmons might be fully over his injury woes, there is still concern over his productivity.
As doubters will ask, will Simmons being healthy result in hitting free throws late in 4th quarters, taking open shots, and performing in the playoffs? With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leaving Brooklyn, there may be added pressure on Simmons to take on more of the team’s scoring load. By all means, a healthy and available Simmons would greatly impact a Nets team that isn’t necessarily filled with star power anymore.
Furthermore, it is important to note, Simmons was the 2020-2021 NBA Defensive Player of the Year runner-up. With this in mind, if the Brooklyn Nets’ point guard can showcase the same versatility that led the Sixers to have the second-best defensive rating in the 2021 NBA season, then the Nets have a great opportunity to take their defense to the next level this year. Coupled with teammate Mikal Bridges, who was also runner-up of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in the 2021-22 season, the Nets have the potential to bring elite defensive level intensity game in and game out.
Not to mention, if Simmons can also return as a high-level 2-way playmaker, it can lead to production at both ends of the court. Can a fully healthy and confident Ben Simmons return to his All-Star form? His teammates seem to think so, as Bridges stated on Paul George’s Podcast P show that “I think (Simmons) is in a good place. … Ben’s my guy. I got big confidence, big faith in my boy this year.”
Moreover, the newfound team camaraderie within the Nets and teammates having faith in Simmons seems to be an underlooked point that may bring forth success for Simmons, as he slowly is getting back to form, both physically and mentally. No matter if one likes or dislikes the player, all will tune in to see if a healthy Ben Simmons can return to elite form, proving the doubters either right or wrong this season.