Is the Ben Simmons experiment a failure by the Nets?

Ben Simmos / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

It’s been a whirlwind of a season for them Netspar for their course ever since they entered their superteam era in 2019. Now that the dust has somewhat settled and the core stars that dragged them through this mess are gone, the franchise can look towards a brighter, normalized future.

However, one remnant of this era, perhaps the biggest miscalculation in a series of historically bad ones, remains.

After trading almost every asset on their books for James Harden during the 2021 season in hopes of building an unstoppable big three, the prolific scorer saw the writing on the wall a year later, requesting a trade out of what would soon be a sinking ship.

Brooklyn’s haul for an all-time offensive talent? Ben Simmonsa freak athlete and All-NBA Defensive Player at just 25 years of age at the time, coming off a postseason humiliation and standoff with his organization.

There were other pieces to the trade, but Simmons was the core return as a three-time reigning All-Star. General manager Sean Marks saw a still-budding star that could impact the game in multiple ways while seamlessly blending with his more score-centric superstars.

At the time, it was a logical bet.

Simmons’ career averages were 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, on top of elite defense. He was a monster in transition and would theoretically thrive with less responsibility as the team’s connector and finisher.

There were question marks. His free throw shooting and outside shooting in general saw little improvement.

Simmons had a number of injuries under his belt. He also struggled in past postseasons, culminating in a confounding moment of meekness around the rim at a pivotal juncture.

But if the Nets could get him to play close to his regular season self, maybe even address some of these weak points in a less hostile environment, the trade would be a success. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Simmons failed to make his Brooklyn debut the season they traded for him due to lingering back and mental health issues. Fine, but this season was meant to be his reset.

As Nets fans have realized, it hasn’t been. Simmons is back on the court, but lacking the edge and aggressiveness required to maximize that 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame.

He’s averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, shooting 56.6 percent from the field. His offensive timidity and lack of confidence are concerning, to say the least.

Simmons attempts 10.4 field goals and 2.5 free throws per 100 possessions, compared to his career numbers of 15 and seven plus, respectively. He’s looking at the rim as actively as Bismack Biyombo.

Contributing to that scant free throw number is his poor shooting from the stripe, a 43.9 percent clip. That’s by far a career low, where he used to hover around the low 60’s.

Watch Simmons play and it’s clear he has little intent on attacking the rim, with most of his focus on setting up others. He’s still racking up assists and is a pinpoint passer, but those abilities are only useful when he earns defensive attention, drawing opponents in to create easy looks for others.

Defenses give little care to Simmons. Smaller guards will get switched onto him and happily live with a weak jump hook falling short.

61.7 percent of his field goals are assisted, while for most of his career the majority of his buckets were self-made. This is also the first season he’s threatening to average fewer than one dunk a game, where he used to put down multiple times.

This lack of tenacity is apparent defensively too. He’s far from the ball hawk and help rim protector he once was. The Nets have defended better as a team with Simmons off the court.

Injuries have already kept Simmons out of 16 games this season. Perhaps the worst part: since the departures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin DurantSimmons hasn’t looked any better, and is seeing even fewer minutes.

To say this isn’t what the Nets hoped to get out of Simmons, who was thought to be a kind of insurance policy against the very scenario that played out this season, would be an understatement.

He’s signed to Brooklyn for another two seasons, in which he’ll earn close to $80 million. The Nets are reportedly going to test his trade market in the summer.

Is it time to just pull the plug and call this particular venture a failure?

Simmons’ trade value could not be lower so swallowing a terrible deal, which could mean including an asset, just to get rid of him seems jumpy. If there’s some consolation, he had a small stretch in November when he looked closer to form, even putting up a couple of 20-point outings, before getting hurt.

It could be false hope to think his game can still be salvaged, but a low-stakes Nets team with a bunch of positive, culture-friendly younger guys around him could be the place to do so.

If not, Simmons will stick out as another casualty of this debacle of an era.

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