Who didn’t see this coming?
Four games into the season, Kyrie Irving yells at Ben Simmons to shoot the ball. The strong suggestion took place on Wednesday during the Brooklyn Nets game against the Milwaukee Bucks. With the Nets up 60-50 early in the third quarter, Irving attacked the basket in transition. He found Simmons to his left in the paint and sent the ball to his backcourt mate alongside a message picked up by broadcast mics.
“Kill him, Ben,” Irving proclaimed.
Ben didn’t shoot it. He instead kicked Kevin Durant high from the 3-point line. Durant then dribbled to the free throw line and stopped for a jumper.
The play succeeded. But the interaction is sure to fuel skepticism about whether a Nets lineup built around Irving, Simmons and Durant can actually work.
Simmons doesn’t shoot the ball in Brooklyn
Simmons made his Nets debut this month after a falling out with the Philadelphia 76ers led to a deadline trade last season that sent him to Brooklyn. Much of the contention between Simmons and the team that drafted him centered on his reluctance to shoot the ball, particularly an open layup he let slip in a playoff loss to the Hawks. ‘Atlanta.
Four games into his Nets tenure, there’s been no suggestion that Simmons is ready to become a scoring option in Brooklyn. In his first three games, Simmons averaged 5.7 points on 4.3 field goal attempts per game. On Wednesday, he shot 2-for-7 from the field for seven points. The Nets lost their double-digit second-half lead in a 110-99 loss to drop to 1-3.
How will the internal pressure on Simmons play out?
For Simmons’ defense, Wednesday’s rounding shot in the paint was not equivalent to his infamous decision against the Hawks. After receiving the pass, he found Giannis Antetokounmpo standing between him and the basket, enough to give even the most confident scorers in the NBA pause.
It’s more Irving’s command to “shoot it” that’s notable. Simmons cited the lack of support from his 76ers coaches and teammates amid mental health issues as a push for his trade request.
Irving described his statement to Simmons as positive support when asked about it after the game. He was also unhappy to have to broach the subject.
“Do you keep asking me about Ben?” Irving said, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “He hasn’t played in two years. Give him a fucking chance. We stay on his shit. You just stay on him. But we’re here to give him positive affirmations.”
It will be worth watching how Simmons interprets and responds to pressure from Irving – and any others that are sure to come as he refuses to fire. With the Nets off to a 1-3 start, positivity might be hard to come by.