SACRAMENTO, Calif. — At any given moment in this young season, Ben Simmons could pick up his phone and fall into a deep dark hole.
Simmons is no social media hermit. He knows what goes on in the Twittersphere every time he misses a free throw, every time he hesitates to drive to the hole, every time he is a late scratch for a game because of a sore knee or tight back. He knows fans have expectations and are frustrated that he hasn’t returned to the level of player he was before taking all of last season off.
So while he pays attention, he also tries to limit the impact it has on him.
“I love the game. Do I like all the [expletive] around it? No. But I love the game and that comes with it,” he said before his Nets played the Kings here on Tuesday. “A lot of things come with being in this position … I love playing basketball and I love to work. Not every day is going to be perfect. Everyone has down days. But that’s life. Day by day, pushing through and getting better.”
Simmons has weathered his fair share of down days this season as he adjusts to getting his body right while playing a new role on a new team. Entering Tuesday night’s game, Simmons had played in nine of 14 games and was averaging 5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 steals. That’s a far cry from the 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals he averaged in four seasons in Philadelphia.
In the Nets' 153-121 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night, Simmons had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in 20:22 off the bench.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Steve Nash on Nov. 1, is trying to shake things up a bit by having Simmons, who has been a starter his entire career, come off the bench.
Simmons started the Nets' first six games, five of which were losses. After missing the next four games with a knee injury, Simmons has come off the bench for the last three and was expected to come off the bench again Tuesday in Sacramento.
“Especially with the second group, I think he’s done a good job and he finished the game with the first group,” Vaughn said. “He gives you the flexibility to be able to play fast, have space on the floor, still be big out there, rebound the basketball.”
Simmons, who said he felt like Bambi his first couple of games back because his legs weren’t all there, said he is slowly getting back to where he wants to be physically after taking a year off.
“I'm hungry to go out there and play,” he said. “There's obviously a level of stairs that I'm building up to, to getting back to where I need to be physically. Obviously this is the best league in the world, so it will take time. But it's one of those things where you slowly see progress. You know, I had a moment back in Brooklyn where I felt like I was running full speed again, and that was when I stole the ball. But it's little glimpses, little things like that that I look at and film and I'm like, OK, there's a little bit of Ben; he’s coming back."
Simmons was asked if he is feeling any extra pressure with teammate Kyrie Irving on suspension.
“I always have pressure on me. Everything I do,” he said. “It’s just like when does it max out, you know? ... It is what it is at this point. I realize that. You have to feel something, too. You have to feel a little bit of pressure. That’s good.”