Ben Simmons quietly rounding back to form with Nets

Ben Simmons' performance seems to be under the radar amidst the rather turbulent start to the Brooklyn Nets' season. From coach firings to trade request drama and an antisemitism controversy, the Nets have not had it easy as the 2022-2023 NBA season has unfolded. However, there comes an unlikely silver lining in the controversy with the latest performances from Simmons. Simmons is currently scoring 15.8 points per game, his highest average since the 2019-2020 season. 

Simmons has had his fair share of controversy as well. Over the last year, there have been talks about Simmons' motivation and drive to play basketball. He did not play a single game during the 2021-2022 season and was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Brooklyn Nets in February of 2022 for James Harden in a trade package

Simmons' struggled during the 2021 playoffs, as he shot 10-for-28 from the foul line over five games in the first round against the Washington Wizards. Simmons' struggles continued to persist during the following series against the Atlanta Hawks, where Simmons' missed an opportunity to send the 76ers to the Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 7, Simmons' was near the rim, where he had the chance for an open shot and to tie the game at the foul line. Instead, he chose to pass to Matisse Thybulle, a move many people blame for the 76ers ouster from the playoffs. 

That play seemed to have stuck with Simmons, who withdrew from the Australian Olympic team during the NBA offseason and did not play in the Summer Olympics. Simmons was in trade talks with the 76ers, but the conversation stalled as the 76ers intended to start the season with him. More controversies piled on throughout the offseason as Simmons did not attend player media day or training camp with the team. Former teammate Joel Embiid expressed his frustrations over the situation, stating: 

"The situation is weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives."

The 76ers withheld the $8.25 million that Simmons was supposed to receive and was fined during the first two preseason games of the 2021-2022 season. Despite clearing the NBA's health and safety protocols, Simmons did not play during the preseason and was suspended for one game for not being engaged during a team practice one day before the start of the regular season. 

Simmons' continued to get fined up until October 22nd, when the 76ers organization stopped fining Simmons for missing games, meetings, and practices. The 76ers stopped fining Simmons as he was protected by a clause in the NBA's league collective bargaining agreement that "protects players' salary for failing to render services 'if such failure has been caused by the player's mental disability."

On November 5th, the 76ers resumed fining Simmons after he denied mental health resources offered by the organization, thus penalizing Simmons for missing any required activities with the team. Simmons' agent Rich Paul began criticizing the 76ers, stating that the fines and negative attention affected Simmons' mental state. Fast forward to February of 2022, just days before the trade deadline, the 76ers finally made a deal to trade Simmons that landed him on the Brooklyn Nets. 

Despite switching organizations, Simmons still did not play for the remainder of the 2021-2022 season, citing that he was dealing with a herniated disc in his back, ruling him out for the rest of the regular season. Simmons' was reportedly going to play during Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Boston Celtics but was ruled out due to back soreness. The Celtics swept the Nets.

In May, Simmons got surgery and could play basketball during the 2022-2023 season after missing all of the previous season. Simmons could not score very well during the first month of the regular season, averaging only 6.2 points per game, but he managed to grab 7.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game in October. 

In the middle of November, things started to turn around for Simmons in the scoring department. Simmons began to put up double digits on the scoreboard, putting up his first double-digit game with 11 points against the Sacramento Kings. The scoring continued for Simmons as he put up 15 points against the Trail Blazers and scored a season-high 22 points in the very next game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Simmons' continued to score well for the rest of November, having averaged 11.4 points per game for the month.

This run of double-digit scoring from Simmons has been helpful to the Brooklyn Nets as Durant seemed to be their only scorer in the absence of Kyrie Irving. With Simmons picking up the pace and seemingly returning to form, the Nets may have a chance at a playoff run if all their pieces work together accordingly.