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The need to be patient with Ben Simmons

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Seth Curry knows Ben Simmons better than anyone on the Nets roster with the exception of Patty Mills who’s known his fellow Australian and family for years. But Curry played with Simmons in Philly, then was traded with him to the Nets in the James Harden deal and is now his teammate again in Brooklyn.

So, when back in July, Curry spoke — in Australia — about Simmons, people should have paid a bit more attention. At the time, Curry suggested that everyone should be patient with Simmons early on. After all, he had missed a full season between his hold out in Philadelphia, then his back surgery after arriving in Brooklyn.

“There are always challenges. Foremost, he has missed a whole season. It is going to be a challenge getting his rhythm back playing basketball,” Curry said back then.

“I don’t know specifically what he has been through, mentally – that’s hard for me to comment on – but having that year off, having that time off, of competing and playing five-on-five basketball is going to be just as hard ... just taking some time and getting re-acclimated to playing high-level basketball, but he is a special talent, has all the skills. The Nets need him on the floor.”

Now two games into the preseason, there are some who have a better understanding of what Curry meant. As Brian Lewis reports Saturday, it’s a process. After a subpar game vs. the Heat, where he turned the ball over six times and took only three shots, neither Simmons nor his head coach, Steve Nash, say they are concerned.

“I’m extremely excited about Ben, but it’s just not going to happen overnight,” said Nash, adding “It’s a new group, new style of play, new roles, new teammates, new offense, new defense. All that stuff takes time. … We’re talking nine days in, two preseason games, he hasn’t played basketball in [a year].”

“I don’t know. That’ll just come,” Simmons said when asked about a return to that All-Star, All-NBA form he flashed in Philly before his holdout. “Obviously, having back surgery and rehabbing, there’s a lot of things that physically I want to do that I’m not doing right now: getting to the rim, getting hit, things like that, and hitting other people. But that’s all going to come. We’ve got time. So in due time, it’ll come.”

Kevin Durant noted that Miami had certain advantages Thursday night that helped them contain Simmons’ game: the absence of Curry (ankle surgery rehab), Joe Harris (foot soreness) and Kyrie Irving (the birth of his second child.) Those three are the Nets three best 3-point shooters, Without them, the Heat could clog the lanes without fear that Simmons could find an efficient shooter on the perimeter, his specialty as a point guard.

“We definitely want Ben to be more aggressive and look to score, especially if we’ve got a small [defender] in the post. You feel like you have an advantage there, him going downhill in transition, all that stuff,” said Durant, who knows what it’s like to spend a year away from the game, missing the 2019-20 season with a ruptured achilles.

“He’s just finding his rhythm again. He hasn’t played in a long time, and to throw you back up in there with the game going fast, you can play pickup all you want but once you put someone in the game all that stuff goes out the window. So he’s getting his legs, quick move here and he’s figuring it out.”

Simmons admitted that he does need to be more aggressive. After going to the line twice in the preseason opener vs. his hold team Monday, missing both shots, he didn’t get to the line at all in Game 2. That, of course, led to pundits suggesting he is still afraid of missing free throws.

“Looking at the box score, I took three shots, which is definitely not enough,” Simmons said post-game. “Obviously offensively, I want to get to the post more, get some more touches down low, be more aggressive, get to the rim, get to the free throw line, which I didn’t do [Thursday]. There’s a lot of things that we can look at.”

But for him, the bottom line, as Curry noted 10 weeks ago, is patience.

“It’s been a year,” Simmons said after posting four points, four assists and 10 rebounds to go with those six turnovers Thursday. “I’m coming back. Give me some time.”

Nash says he has that patience. His bottom line is “Ben will be fine.”

“He’s going to grow in that respect. He’s going to get more attempts,” Nash said. “Right now obviously it’s a little clunky for us, especially we’re missing some guys who space the floor and put pressure on the defense.

“Ben will be fine. He’ll improve. He’s going to get better every night, and he’s going to be an engine for us and a big part of what we do, so I’m not worried about him. But it is a process. He hasn’t played for a long time and he’s also assimilating to a new group. That takes time. It’s not going to be perfect, and it probably won’t be any time soon. But if we can keep improving every day that’s all we ask for.”

And as Kristian Winfield reported, Nash’s counterpart Thursday, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, understands what Simmons can bring once back at top speed.

“He is a tough guy to game plan for because so much of what he does is in the open court or those unscripted plays,” Spoelstra said. “His size, his ability to pass and his passing angles are much different than smaller players. He can just throw it over the top of a lot of different coverages. You’re just happy he’s back out there competing again.”

Maybe the Nets, during their summer of uncertainty, pushed Simmons out front a little too quickly. Similarly, maybe the fans pushed aside concerns about the challenges he would face. Whatever the case, the 6’11” 26-year-old will be critical to the team’s success ... whenever he’s back in top shape.