Let’s Give Ben Simmons A Chance

Ben Simmons missed all of last season due to a combination of a back injury and feeling not mentally ready to play.

This has led to a complicated relationship with NBA fans, many of whom troll Simmons through social media to take jabs at the former All-Star for having gone through mental difficulties.

The ridicule has only grown worse since the start of the 2022-2023 campaign, as Simmons has struggled mightily. The 6’10 guard is averaging just 5.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in 31.0 minutes per game, often looking deferential and disengaged on the court.

Needless to say, struggling mentally is no laughing matter, and the world of sports fans unfortunately have a long way to go in that department. The end goal – choosing support over online jokes – seems to be years away.

Drowning Simmons in overblown criticism, mean-spirited comments, and at times online threats, isn’t going to help that relationship. Instead, it’ll do the exact opposite and further an already wide divide between the two parties.

This is where Simmons’ continued NBA career enters shaky ground. He’s in Year 3 of a $177 million contract that started in 2020, and he will reach free agency in 2025 at the age of 28. Who’s to say Simmons won’t look himself in the mirror by then, and choose to walk away from basketball, knowing he’s financially set for life? Retiring would immediately allow him to fully avoid all types of media and fan interactions, as all obligations related to the NBA lifestyle would be severed.

No one with any type of credibility would be able to criticize such a decision considering the amount of vitriol aimed at him after every single game. Emotionally, it has to be incredibly taxing to know that if you ever Google your own name, you’ll get flooded with negativity.

Simmons, of course, is incredibly talented. He was the number one selection in 2016 for a reason. He’s one of the most versatile defenders in decades, has an uncanny court vision for someone his size, and he’s far more agile in his movement than anyone 6’10 should be.

His shortcomings are there, and they are real. He’s too reluctant a scorer. He’s never developed a taste for shooting. And he routinely plays at a level or two below his capabilities. It can at times be incredibly frustrating to watch someone who could be one of the best players in the sport settle for less.

However, one could argue that this isn’t a Simmons problem, but rather a problem created by the observer.

Simmons still signed a deal for max money. That didn’t happen if he hadn’t delivered. He was an All-Star, one of the most celebrated defenders in the NBA, and an open court dime dropper.

It was the need of observers to see more. The breadcrumbs of success had all been laid out, and now it was up to Simmons to meet all the expectations that were put on him by outside forces. Fans wanted the whole loaf, even if Simmons didn’t want to bake it.

Simmons’ reluctance in doing what fans asked of him, which included adding a three-point shot to his game, became a war of wills that is still going to this very day.

If Simmons didn’t deliver on the expectations set upon him, he would get relentlessly targeted for his supposed inability to improve.

When the former All-Star voiced mental health difficulties, it almost seemed like fans took it as an invitation to uncontrollably bash him for being weak-minded, and for having a poor work ethic – neither of which are true given his NBA career as primary evidence. You don’t get to the NBA without a high work ethic, and you certainly don’t become a star without one.

Now, as he’s back on the court trying to find his footing after a year away, there’s incredible pressure for him to deliver, and do so immediately. If he stumbles, even for a minute, it’s making the rounds on Twitter within minutes.

Perhaps it’s time to scale back on the continued focus on him, and allow him to catch a breath as he not only returns to the floor, but does so for a new team.

Perhaps it’s time to celebrate the good plays, as opposed to highlighting the poor ones, just to create a semblance of balance. Because those do still exist, such as when he stripped Luka Dončić on two occasions in Brooklyn’s October 27 loss to Dallas, and made late-game dimes to teammates for scores, which is hardly an easy thing to do.

Or perhaps, it’s just time to let Ben Simmons be Ben Simmons, and enjoy what he does provide on the court without adding to the pool of expectations.

And yes, of course there are concerns for Brooklyn if he doesn’t return to the level he used to be, at especially given what they’re investing in him financially. Simmons isn’t absolved of the responsibility of being a high-end contributor.

If the Nets fail to receive adequate production from Simmons, especially as Kyrie Irving is inching closer to becoming an unrestricted free agent, and Kevin Durant being just a month away from rescinding a trade request, things could end up poorly in Brooklyn.

But in the meantime, let’s all give Simmons some breathing room, and let him work. We all frankly owe him that much.

Unless noted otherwise, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball-Reference. All salary information via Spotrac. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/mortenjensen/2022/10/28/lets-give-ben-simmons-a-chance/