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Simmons’ versatility paying dividends

Nets guard building up minutes and stats in early season

November 1, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Ben Simmons insisted during the offseason and training camp that he was ready to return to All-Star form.

At this pace, the 6-foot-10 point guard is on his way.

Fresh off his best performance of the young season, Simmons hopes to keep filling up the stat sheet with his versatility Wednesday night when the Nets visit the Miami Heat at the Kaseya Center.

Brooklyn shooting guard Cam Thomas has deservedly received the most attention during Brooklyn’s first three games, averaging 33 points per contest and matching that total in Monday night’s 133-121 victory in Charlotte.

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However, Simmons has quietly been ramping up after playing just 42 games, including 33 starts, during his first season and a half with the Nets (1-2) due to mental health concerns and knee and back issues.

Returning to full-time basketball activities in the run-up to this campaign, Simmons was adamant that he could live up to the 2018 Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star resume he put up in Philadelphia before leaving the 76ers in the February 2022 trade that landed James Harden in Brooklyn.

“I don’t intend to come back the same player I was last [season], because that’s not even close to where I am,” Simmons insisted in August. “I get excited because I’m like, ‘Damn, I would [expletive] on the player I was last year.'”

Simmons averaged 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists last season, well below his career numbers of 14.7, 7.8 and 7.5 in those respective categories.

Thus far this year, the native Australian is leading Brooklyn in rebounding (10.0 per contest) and assists (8.3) to go with his 8.3 points scoring average.

He had 11 points, eight assists and 10 rebounds in Brooklyn’s first win of the campaign agiainst the Hornets, and was instrumental in helping the Nets run out to a season-best 28 fast-break points.

“Yeah, I feel like it’s an advantage we can exploit, and just use everybody’s abilities and also help Ben with spacing,” Nets forward Dorian Finney-Smith said of the team’s ability to drive to the basket. “He can get to the rim”

Simmons, who played a season-high 35 minutes Monday after logging only 23 on Opening Night, has also helped Brooklyn win the rebounding battle in each of its first three games.

He has grabbed exactly 10 in each contest and also became the first Net since Jason Kidd to put up at least 25 points and 25 assists through three games.

Brooklyn shooting guard Cam Thomas will be shooting for his fourth straight 30-plus point game in Miami on Wednesday. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

With Simmons working effectively both inside and out, the 22-year-old Thomas has been filling up the score sheet in historic fashion.

He is the second-youngest player in NBA history to score at least 30 points in the first three games of the year and his 113 total points are the most by any Net in franchise history to begin a season.

The leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference during his final year at Louisiana State, Thomas dominated Summer League campaigns with his instant offense and showed flashes of doing so during the regular season last February when the Nets dealt away Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Thomas put up at least 40 points in three straight games while Brooklyn was waiting for Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to arrive and get acclimated to the Nets’ offense following their arrivals from Phoenix for Durant.

At 21, he became the youngest player to reach at least 40 points for three games in a row.

With starters Johnson (calf) and Nic Claxton (ankle) expected to be out again against the Heat (1-3), Thomas, along with Bridges, should get the majority of offensive touches and looks.

Thomas made his second straight start Monday after coming off the bench to score a season-high 36 points in only 25 minutes off the bench during last week’s season opener at Barclays Center.

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn believes the 6-foot-3 scoring machine is benefitting from the rest of the Nets’ confidence in his abilities.

“He is gaining an extreme amount of trust his teammates,” Vaughn revealed Monay. “We know he has the ability to score the basketball but it’s not forced.

“It was within the flow of our offense,” Vaughn added. “And then at certain times, we need him to get a bucket, he’s capable of doing that also. So he’s learning how to survey the game a little bit….He’s just continued to grow as a third-year player and I’m happy to see it.”

So are the rest of the Nets, who are eager to even their record against a Miami team that has lost three in a row, including Monday’s 122-114 defeat at Milwaukee that capped an 0-3 road trip.

Point guard Tyler Herro, whom the Nets coveted as a potential offseason acquisition, poured in 35 points for the Heat, who finished with a flurry but came up short after trailing by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter.

“We earned that 25-point deficit,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra ceded. “And then that young group came in and really battled, did a lot of good things. I’m sure Milwaukee was just wanting to play it out and hoping we were going to go away.”

After visiting the Heat, the Nets will wrap up their four-game trip Friday night in Chicago.

The Nets will try to slow down Miami’s Tyler Herro when they continue their four-game trip against the Heat Wednesday night. AP Photo by Morry Gash

NOTHING BUT NET: Brooklyn swept the three-game regular-season from Miami last season. … Johnson is expected to miss at least a week and a half before being reevaluated for his injured left calf. Claxton will also continue to rest his ankle Wednesday vs. the Heat. Spencer Dinwiddie, who left Monday’s win with an ankle injury as well, is listed as day-to-day heading into the Nets’ third game of the year. … The Heat are expected to be without Caleb Martin (knee), Bam Adebayo (hip) and Haywood Highsmith (knee). …

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