To some basketball deviants, Ben Simmons is an endless fascination. A sphinx, even: real big, capable of killing you if only he could be bothered, that unconvincing pencil smile. Simmons has stuffed his Nets game log with heavy triple-singles. Earlier this month, he even approached the esoteric zero-point double-double with a nine-rebound, 13-assist performance against the Celtics. He will only take shots in the paint but he has developed a baffling allergy to the backboard. He's surely one of the fastest 6-foot-10 athletes ever but often prefers an aimless saunter. Every basketball game presents a new opportunity for Ben to expand the boundaries of the weird.
Simmons is fortunate to have landed on a roster that's shooting-rich enough to sort-of-accommodate his astonishing unwillingness to put ball in hoop. He's still missing a big chunk of an already narrow offensive repertoire. But he sprays the ball around in transition, and he and Nic Claxton allow the Nets to switch aggressively on defense. In sporadic bursts, he will even attack the rim, looking a little like 50-year-old Ben Simmons's driveway impression of rookie Ben Simmons, but still better than nothing. In the second half of the Nets' game against the Sixers on Wednesday, Simmons took six shots in the paint and made five. “He just made a choice. He just made a choice to put his head down and be aggressive for our team and we need him to do that," said Kyrie Irving afterwards. Like everything else with Simmons, this passion ebbs and flows. It all kind of works, if not well enough to justify his contract, then at least well enough to warrant a random observer's perverse attention in the Nets' experiment.
We're free to enjoy this mystery from a distance. But the Nets head coach is, tragically, paid to figure him out. Not yet three months into the job, Jacque Vaughn has confronted the peccadillos of Ben Simmons head-on and seems a bit tired. The Nets, still missing Kevin Durant due to an MCL sprain, have lost six of their last eight. Thursday night's humiliation at the hands of the conference-worst Pistons appeared to weigh heavily on Vaughn in postgame press. Simmons finished with zero points, one rebound, and seven assists, and sat out most of the second half with knee soreness. On this absence, Vaughn let his eyes do the talking:
Asked more generally about Simmons's availability in back-to-backs, Vaughn barely bothered to code his language:
The goal, in my eyes, I'll say this, is for everyone to play every game, and to do what's necessary to be prepared to play every game. There's a certain amount of minutes that each individual played in Philly. Some played equally tonight. The preparation that it takes going into that, you just have to give credit to the guys who were prepared to play, ready to play, did what was necessary to get their bodies ready to play.
It's not quite Doc Rivers's flaccid-faced "I don't know the answer to that," but we'll arrive at that phase eventually.