Ben Simmons plays 5? Do not be surprised

When Steve Nash talked at the end of last season about how Ben Simmons could play the 5 for the Nets, he threw Nets fans into a loop. The 6’11-inch Simmons was a starting guard, all-star guard and every NBA team. Why make it a focal point.

“I think he plays both [point guard and center]Nash said at the end of the season.

“He’s just such a well-rounded player, versatile and a skilled player that I think it would be limiting to say, ‘Hey, you have to deal with the ball all the time. You have to facilitate the offense all the time. That’s what sets him apart is the variety of skills he brings to the table.’ So yeah , will make it easier and be the main guard.

“Sometimes he’ll also be the center. Other times, he’ll be the guy who plays centerless basketball, trying to spark the attack in the half-court. So for me, he’s playing on his strengths, the variety, and all of those things are part of it.”

In fact, as Brian Lewis wrote on Saturday, Simmons played a lot of 5 when he played in Philadelphia and it worked, especially when Joel Embiid went down…which is uncommon.

In his four healthy seasons, Simmons spent 8.1, 10.9, 6.5 and 7.6 percent of his defensive holdings in the center of play, respectively, according to advanced league data. The breakdown was fairly similar in crime: 6.7, 8.2, 7.5 and 7.2 percent.

The Nets got a look at what Simmons could be like as a small 5 ball during their 2019 first round qualifier loss to a team Sixers. When Embiid was sidelined with a knee injury, the Sixers closed the fourth quarter of Game 3 with Simmons in the center. He responded with the best post-season performance of his career: 31 points in 11-for-13 shootings, nine assists, four rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.

Here are some highlights of that game…

The Sixers’ victory put them 2-1 up and went a long way toward sealing the fate of the young Nets.

Brooklyn lacks big men. Simmons along with Nick Claxton and Daron Sharp are the top three players currently on the Nets roster. On Bobby Marks’ talk about whether the Nets need a big roving signature like Dwight Howard He went even further than Nash last week, saying “we’ll probably see Ben Simmons play most minutes in the center.”

Of course, there will be a lot of issues. What would the Nets’ offense late in the games look like if Simmons and Claxton were on the field together… and neither KD nor Kyrie were with them? It’s not pretty assuming that neither player improved his shot. Also while Simmons can protect 1 to 5, the Nets lack edge protection with him instead of the two five youngsters on the field. And of course, the Nets will probably have to wait and see how Simmons fit in after missing an entire season, noted Seth Curry, also part of James Harden’s trade, when visiting Simmons, Australia last week.

“It’s going to be hard to get his basketball rhythm back,” Curry recently told outlets in Sydney and Melbourne. “But he is a special talent, he has all the skills. You need to curl up on the ground.”

However, by all accounts, the Nets see the 26-year-old as a key piece, both in the scenario of falling back with Durant and Irving on the field…or in rebuilding. As Lewis notes, after speaking with league executives, “Nets general manager Sean Marks has shown no inclination to move Simmons.” As Lewis adds, there isn’t much market now for Simmons who signed for three years and $113.7 million.

Of course, a lot of what Simmons will be asked to do depends on his running mates in October whether it’s Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving or some little-known cut taken for one or both stars. It doesn’t matter, says Carey, the Nets will need Simmons…even if they don’t need a jump shot.

“I don’t think he needs a jump. ‘He just has to do what he does best – which is defending, rebounding, pushing the ball, doing other people’s play and attacking the edge,’” Curry said. It takes not one but two and sometimes three men to stop it from over the edge, that’s a lot in itself.

“If he can add free throws at a higher clip, it will allow him to be unable to stop him once he puts his head down.”

Because of both KD and Kyrie sturm und drang, Simmons was an afterthought this summer. Once the star issues are settled either before or during the regular season, Simmons’ place on the Nets will be front and (possibly) in the middle.