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Overlooked in Nets drama: Ben Simmons has struggled mightily so far

David Gardner joins the show to discuss the latest regarding Kyrie Irving, and why the Nets' point guard seems to be motivated by a desire to refuse whatever he's being told to do.

The soap opera around the Brooklyn Nets has “Succession” level intensity and plot twists. Kyrie Irving was Tweeting and now has been suspended for five games and dropped by Nike. Steve Nash has stepped away as coach, and his replacement could be the guy the Celtics just suspended for the season due to a situation surrounding an improper relationship with a team staff member.

In the midst of all that, the Nets have started 3-6 despite Kevin Durant playing like an MVP. The Nets’ defense has been dreadful this season — it improved the last couple of games to only the fifth worst in the league.

A key reason for that: Ben Simmons has struggled to start the season.

Which is putting it kindly. He’s been awful.

Simmons is out right now with a sore knee missing the team’s last four games, which is a legit concern, but not as big as his play so far when healthy. The Nets banked on Simmons being their third star, a player with a unique skill set to fill in the spaces around Durant and Kyrie Irving (the way Draymond Green does for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson). Brooklyn expected the player we saw in Philadelphia who, despite his flaws, was an All-Star, an elite perimeter defender who could initiate the offense.

Instead, Simmons is averaging 6.2 points per game on 44.1% shooting with all of his points coming in the paint or from the free throw line, he has a career-low 12.7 usage rate, and to watch him is to see he a man playing like he is afraid of getting fouled (7-of-15 from the stripe this season). The Nets have moved him largely off the ball and into the dunker’s spot on offense. Defensively he is not close to the same player. The result is he is a -53 so far this season, with a G-League player level PER of 9.7.

That is frustrating Durant and others around the Nets, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“Ben Simmons has been a source of frustration for Kevin Durant, for others on the Nets so far, because now he is unable to stay on the floor with a knee injury but prior to that, he has shown that he’s a long way away from being back to an impactful player. It’s a big part of the reason why the Nets are at the bottom of the league defensively and none of this really works. This team was built and reconstructed around the idea Simmons would play a significant role for this team, especially on the defensive end, especially rebounding the basketball and certainly facilitating the offense.

“There is no indication Ben Simmons is close to being back to anywhere near the player he once was.”

Irving has stuck up for Simmons, rightfully pointing out he missed an entire season of play with a combination of mental health concerns and a back issue. It was going to take time for him to find his form again and the Nets — and their fans — always needed to be patient.

But as anyone watching the Nets can see (and as Woj notes), Simmons is not close to that player right now, with no clear path to get there. This isn’t a player shaking off a little rust, this is not the same level of player.

It’s early in the season, and while the vultures are circling Brooklyn — specifically hoping Durant reasserts his trade request — there is time to turn things around. Simmons could find his groove again. Anything is possible.

But right now Simmons is a long, long way from that player. He’s been awful and the Nets are struggling partly because of it.