Who didn’t see this coming?
Four games into the season, Kyrie Irving is yelling at Ben Simmons to shoot the ball. The strong suggestion took place Wednesday during the Brooklyn Nets‘ game against the Milwaukee Bucks. With the Nets leading, 60-50 early in the third quarter, Irving attacked the basket in transition. He found Simmons to his left in the paint and dished the ball to his backcourt mate alongside a message picked up by broadcast mics.
“Shoot it, Ben,” Irving proclaimed.
Ben didn’t shoot it. He instead kicked it out to Kevin Durant at the top of the 3-point line. Durant then dribbled to the free-throw line and pulled up for a jumper.
The play was successful. But the interaction is sure to feed skepticism whether a Nets lineup built around Irving, Simmons and Durant can actually work.
Simmons is not shooting 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 discord between Simmons and the team that drafted him surrounded his unwillingness to shoot the ball, specifically an open layup he passed up in a playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Four games into his Nets tenure, nothing suggests that Simmons is willing 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 blew their double-digit second-half lead in a 110-99 loss to fall to 1-3.
How will internal pressure on Simmons play out?
To Simmons’ defense, Wednesday’s bypassed shot in the paint wasn’t equivalent to his infamous decision against the Hawks. After receiving the pass, he found Giannis Antetokounmpo standing between himself and the basket, enough to give even the most confident of NBA scorers pause.
It’s more the command from Irving to “shoot it” that’s noteworthy. Simmons cited a lack of support from his 76ers coaches and teammates amid mental health struggles as an impetus for his trade demand.
Irving painted his declaration to Simmons as positive support when asked about it after the game. He was also displeased with having to address the subject.
“You guys keep coming in here asking me like what about Ben?” Irving said, per the New York Post’s Brian Lewis. “He hasn’t played in two years. Give him give him a f***ing chance. We stay on his s***. You just stay on him. But we’re here to give him positive affirmations.”
How Simmons interprets and responds to Irving’s pressure — and any other that’s sure to come as he declines to shoot — will be worth watching. With the Nets off to a 1-3 start, positivity could be hard to come by.