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For Ben Simmons, it’s been a tough return leading to ever more speculation

Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

It’s early — four games — but still fans and a lot of other people — pundits, NBA scouts, etc. — are intrigued by what’s going on with the Nets, and particularly with Ben Simmons. Simmons himself has said it’s going to be up-and-down for a while, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that the 26-year-old three-time All-Star is still a long way away from being the player he was before he held out last season.

The latest flashpoint came vs. the Bucks in Milwaukee Wednesday when Kyrie Irving seemed to pushing Simmons to shoot.

Simmons didn’t shoot but gave up the ball to one of the NBA’s greatest shot-makers, Kevin Durant, who scored on the play. But with all the controversy on Simmons unwillingness to shoot in the 2021 Eastern Conference semi-finals, questions were once again raised.

When Irving was asked post-game about the play, he suggested that everyone should give Simmons some time to get things right.

“I’m not trying to be critical of what Ben’s done wrong and done right every night,” Irving said. “You guys keep coming in here and asking me what about Ben, what about Ben. And it’s he hasn’t played in two years. Give him a f–king chance. You stay on his s–t. I wish I could say other words but I’m a Jersey boy. You stay on him. We’re just here to give him positive affirmation and just let him hoop.

“It’s not an individual job to go out here and be Superman. He doesn’t have to. There’s no such thing; it’s made up anyway. I like to say a phrase that my dad says: A hero is nothing but a sandwich. Everyone wants to be a hero, but it’s a team game,” added Irving who has repeatedly defended his teammate.

And not every fan or pundit is overly concerned. Take our own Tom Lorenzo...

Then, Thursday on NBA Today, Brian Windhorst went further, suggesting that the Nets need to deal with the issue and soon, quoting NBA advance scouts who are watching Nets games. Windhorst essentially said Simmons issues are mental. The picture he painted was not pretty.

“The scouts who have been dispatched to watch Ben Simmons closely — and there have been a lot early in this season — believe that the reason Ben Simmons doesn’t go aggressive isn’t because he’s afraid of missing the shot as much as he’s afraid of being fouled,” said WIndhorst.

“He’s only taken nine free throws this season so far and he’s only made three of them. I mean you look at Kyrie telling him to shoot. He was in a position where he would very likely be fouled. Not afraid necessarily of missing the shot. And the thing that scouts who have watched Ben Simmons play is his reaction to being in foul trouble.

“Now, in this game here the other night, this was his sixth foul. He was upset about this, but I’ve talked to scouts who have watched Ben Simmons get pulled out games and they believe that — I don’t know if it’s exactly how he feels — but they believe, the scouts believe that he looks almost relieved to be coming out of the game at the time.

“So I understand why his teammates are trying to be protective of him, but the thing that sticks out to me, the big worry point for the Nets is that Durant, Irving and Simmons have played together 77 minutes this season. That’s a pretty big amount for four games. They’ve been outscored in those 77 minutes by 30 points. That’s their Big Three guys and that’s worrisome — those results — in addition to what Simmons is doing individually.”

Beyond that, there have been those who have noted Simmons holding his surgically repaired back. Simmons dismissed concerns in talking to the media Wednesday.

“Definitely I think each game I feel more comfortable. I think once I kind of got hit and tweaked my back a bit, I was a little more hesitant after that, as you guys could probably see,” Simmons said. “But I definitely feel like in each game I’m progressing a bit with my physicality and aggressiveness.”

“It’s good. We’ll see [Thursday]. Usually a day it takes to really know how you’re feeling,” said Simmons who is scheduled to play vs. the Mavs on Thursday night.