It was Simmons’ first game in 470 days, and you may recall that his previous appearance on the court came in a playoff loss to Atlanta in which he infamously passed up a wide-open dunk to cost the Sixers a Game 7 home loss to the Hawks in the second round of the 2021 postseason.
We know that Ben Simmons will not pass up a dunk. He had one for his first bucket wearing a Brooklyn uniform. So there’s that, plus he looked pretty sharp on defense in his preseason debut last night for the Nets.
One year ago Ben Simmons passed up an open dunk in crunch time of Game 7 vs the Hawks
— Basketball Craze (@bball_craze) June 20, 2022
That missed opportunity ended up being Simmons’ defining moment in Philadelphia, where his stardom was a creation of the team’s marketing staff at the direction of then-owners Josh Harris and Michael Rubin.
After so many years of suffering through “The Process,” Simmons was anointed a superstar prematurely by a desperate team and a desperate fan base. The guy cannot shoot 3-pointers or free throws, and his confidence and mental health both waned … the latter to an extreme degree after that playoff elimination loss.
Can Steve Nash Save His Own Job Through Simmons?
The Sixers offloaded him to the Nets at the trade deadline last season as part of the James Harden trade, and now it is up to coach Steve Nash and two legit superstar teammates, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, to perform a salvage operation. Last night was our first brief look, and Simmons had six points, five assists and four rebounds in 19 minutes.
Hey, double those minutes and those stats, and you have a guy flirting with a triple-double. The guy has had 32 of them in his career, and despite all of his flaws, he remains a wonder to watch in the open court as a ball distributor, defensive stopper, and disruptor.
His former coach, Doc Rivers, did a nice job promoting Simmons for a Defensive Player of the Year candidacy a couple of years back. Simmons can be found on the DPOY board at odds ranging from +2000 to +3000, and a couple of books even have him on their MVP boards at 300-1 for those who believe in astronomical absurdities actually taking place.
“I’m just grateful to be able to step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there. I thought I’d be nervous, but I wasn’t nervous. I was excited,” Simmons told reporters afterward.
“Any time anybody comes back, it’s going to take some time,” Irving said. “He’s going to love playing with us. This is Day One, highly anticipated. I’m glad it went his way on some easy buckets, and he made some great plays. But obviously, he knows he has a ways to go before he gets to feeling like his true self.”
Yes, there was some irony that his first basket was a dunk.
Ben on the break pic.twitter.com/EsXCAmG4Ge
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 3, 2022
And if he can continue to find these types of passes to players behind the 3-point line …
Playmaking from the post 🪙 pic.twitter.com/DKxLJH2t1n
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) October 3, 2022
The shooter on that second bucket was Royce O’Neal, one of Sean Marks’ under-the-radar acquisitions during the off-season. The Nets also have the lesser Curry, Seth, rising star Cam Thomas and known commodity Joe Harris capable of knocking down 3-point shots. So the sky is the limit regarding assists when it comes to Simmons, whose passing skills are almost akin to Kyrie’s ballhandling skills (there is no one better).
So Where Might Value Be Found on Simmons?
The league leader in assists last season was Chris Paul with 10.8, and Simmons’ career-high was 8.2 as a rookie when he really didn’t have any shooters of note surrounding him in Philly.
A few books are starting to post lines on league leaders in various statistical categories, and Simmons is on the board for assists at +10000 at Draft Kings, +3900 at Fan Duel and +8000 at Caesars. Nothing will if that does not demonstrate to you the need to shop around at the nine sportsbooks in New York.
Anyway, it is all very speculative at this point of the preseason. The ill will created over the summer when Durant and Irving voiced an utter lack of support for Nash immediately put him on the hottest of coaching seat hot seats.
By the time the postseason rolls around, the Nets will be in the playoffs one way or another, and the pressure on Simmons will be as a different level … one he has not yet proven himself capable of conquering. But the wagering game in October is all about futures markets as far as we are concerned. The value proposition of going with Simmons to lead the league in assists is not the worst idea in the history of ideas at those odds.
Ben Simmons airball yikes pic.twitter.com/Ry5vxT9kvg
— Bestsportshighlights (@BSHighlights) January 17, 2021
But the MVP flyer? Nah. The guy has made exactly five 3-pointers on 34 attempts in his four active seasons, and he is a career 59.7 percent shooter at the free throw line. Opponents are going to intentionally foul him, and we will likely see that a heck of a lot more in the regular season that we normally would, with a variant of the famous Hack-a-Shaq strategy. When opponents know you are mentally fragile, they attack unconventionally.
So what conservative bettors need to keep in mind is that if the Nets can have Simmons stay in his lane and he is a defender and passer and little else, their chances of winning the Atlantic Division (+185) and the Eastern Conference (+310) go up exponentially.
Let’s talk Kyrie (and Alex Jones and Kareem)
And aside from all of the focus on Simmons, the guy who may really make or break this team is the mercurial Irving, who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar excoriated on Substack. Abdul-Jabbar took issue with a tacit endorsement through social media sharing of a 2002 video post from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
That post claimed a tyrannical organization of global leaders is releasing plagues for profit. Following Irving’s controversial anti-vaccine mandate stance last season, which limited him to just 29 games, the criticism from Abdul-Jabbar — he called Irving a comical buffoon and lambasted his “gelatinous ignorance” — is not going to help Irving win over many hearts and minds. And then there is the whole flat earth thing. That type of thing spooks voters.
After his uncongenial departures from Cleveland and Boston, and following a summer in which he was the subject of numerous trade rumors involving the Los Angeles Lakers, many NBA award voters might have a problem putting all of that aside and casting an MVP vote for Irving, even if he was the most deserving player out there.
That is how polarizing of a player he is. Yet he remains extraordinarily popular with the younger demographic, many of whom are not yet 21 and thus cannot gamble. But he is on the MVP board at +10000 at FanDuel, and he certainly has MVP-caliber talent.
Put it this way: If you had to choose between Irving at +10000 or Trae Young at +4200, which guy would you go with? Something to ponder, my fellow New Yorkers, if you decide to make the drive across the border to Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey to wager on player award futures.
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