With Ben Simmons, Brooklyn has the fastest fast break in basketball. By a margin.
Without him, they have one of the worst.
For a team that needs to run to win, that’s making those without stretches tough.
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Simmons is slated to miss a third straight game Monday with a left hip contusion.
“It’s a realisation from our guys. Half-court offense for us is difficult, at the end of the day,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn admitted. “And that’s why we’ve preached from Day 1 the importance of playing with pace and getting the ball out, make or miss. That covers up some sins, some offensive rebounds. That covers up some shot-making by the other team by putting pressure on them.
“There’s no secret: Ben gives us an energy, a pace. Like it, love it. We miss it, we need it, it’s a part of who we are, it’s the way our team is built. We’ll try to have to figure out who can aid in pushing the pace for us. But the realisation for us is that’s how we need to play. That’s the most important thing.”
As the great philosopher Harry Callahan said, a man has got to know his limitations.
And the Nets’ limitation — with stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving long since traded, and leading scorer Cam Thomas out with a sprained ankle for the next few weeks — is that they’re not constructed to be prolific in the halfcourt.
They’re built to run.
“We got Dennis [Smith Jr.], myself, Spencer [Dinwiddie], we got a couple players who can really push the rock and enforce that,” Lonnie Walker IV said. “It starts with the rebounding. We’ve really got to hone in on our defensive rebounding.
“Ben does such a terrific job at when he’s in transition, two, three guys are coming in and he’s such a great passer it makes the game a lot easier. But when he’s out, we’ve got to understand with a great player out we’ve got to step it up and take part in that role.”
Ah, that “when he’s out” part is the rub.
Simmons suffered the hip injury receiving a hard pass Monday.
After being listed as questionable with a sore hip in the next two games only to be downgraded to out, the Nets clarified the injury as a left hip contusion on Saturday and ruled him out for Washington on Sunday.
Any injury to Simmons raises alarms.
Herniated L-4 and L-5 disks, then a nerve impingement, limited Simmons to just 42 games combined over the past two seasons, and robbed him of his athleticism when he did play.
The issues required back surgery in May 2022.
So far this season Simmons has looked vastly improved.
No, he’s not back to being the All-Star that Brooklyn traded James Harden for, and he may never be.
And he still doesn’t attack the rim as much as some would like.
But he creates the pace they need, and produces open 3-point looks for his teammates.
“That’s what he brings,” Cam Johnson said.
In the three games that Simmons has already missed this season, the Nets were held to just 34 fast break points total.
For perspective, Philadelphia came into Saturday leading the league averaging 20.6 per game, with Brooklyn fifth at 19.0.
With Simmons, the Nets are averaging an eye-watering 22.8 fast-break points that would’ve made Jason Kidd’s breakneck teams proud, running away with the league lead by a significant margin.
But without him?
They’re mustering just 11.3 — which would place them a lowly 27th in the league.
“It’s just got to start with stops,” Mikal Bridges said. “We’ve got to get stops. They score and set the defense. So just get your stops.”
“I don’t know how many fast-break points we had [Friday]. I know there weren’t many. And that’s an area of the game that we’ve been thriving in,” Johnson said. “So just getting back to that. It’s a work in progress, figuring out line-ups and everything and I can’t tell you enough that I’m just excited to get to the next one.”
That next one is Washington — at the very least.
This article originally appeared on the NY Post and was reproduced with permission.
Originally published as Ben Simmons’ injury concerns raises serious red flag for Brooklyn Nets