NBA 2023: Ben Simmons is back at his best, but his journey to redemption isn’t over yet

Not long ago, Ben Simmons was dubbed the NBA’s most divisive player. But he’s made giant strides back to his All-Star best with the star-studded Brooklyn Nets.

Ben Simmons has emerged from the shadow of being the NBA’s most divisive player to become a “glue” for the in-form Brooklyn Nets, but the Aussie star’s journey to redemption is far from complete.

The mental demons and injuries are in the rearview mirror and Simmons is being hailed back as an All-Star Caliber player.

Although the three-time All-Star did not appear in the top 10 guards in the East in the first round of fan voting.

Despite all of Simmons’ successes with the Nets this season, particularly defensively, there is still a degree of skepticism about the Melbourne-born guard.

The image of the Aussie eschewing an open dunk and missing free throws in Philadelphia’s seventh loss to Atlanta in the 2021 playoffs has scarred some critics.

Then there’s Simmons’ ugly departure from the 76ers, highlighted when he refused to play and sat out a season until traded.

The former No. 1 draft pick has been accused of not having the “heart” required to succeed on the professional stage.

His willingness to improve on his erroneous shot shot has also been questioned.

Simmons has since conceded he could have managed his exit from Philadelphia better, but it wasn’t entirely his fault as the club were crystal clear about their feelings about their championship credentials.

The gifted guard finally found out when he was traded to Brooklyn last season, and although he didn’t play a game due to mental health and an ongoing back injury, the change of scenery helped him rediscover his smile.

Now, Simmons is back in his happy-hoop seat, playing a key role in a star-studded Brooklyn side that sits second in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Nets won 12 straight games before a loss to Chicago took the team just two wins away from the franchise’s longest-ever winning streak.

Regardless, Brooklyn is a legitimate contender for the championship and Simmons is a key cog in the machine.

He averages 7.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6 assists.

The Aussie star has also helped the Nets become a stronger defensive team, while his ability to level the court and find teammates with his pinpoint passing has proved invaluable in a side struggling with offensive threats like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is loaded.

Brooklyn looked like they had finally turned the corner until Durant injured his knee in a win over the Miami Heat this week.

The Nets superstar could be out for up to a month, putting pressure on his side to maintain their winning streak.

Brooklyn went 5-16 without Durant last year, including an 11-game losing streak.

KD’s absence opens the door for a player other than scoring guard Kyrie Irving to step up.

In the eyes of many experts, this man is Simmons.

ESPN NBA Senior Contributor Ramona Shelburne recently urged the Australian Guard to drive to the rim more aggressively.

Shelburne rates Simmons highly but believes he needs to drive more and attack the rim, especially with Durant on the sidelines.

“Simmons used to drive to the basket — he was fifth in the NBA when he drove to the basket five years ago,” Shelburne said.

“He used to average about 10 drives per game in the past.

“Three are driving a game this year.

“That’s not enough for a guy like Ben Simmons.

“You saw him against Kyle Lowry. They put a seven foot Lowry on him and he settled for pull ups – that’s not aggressive enough.

“Well, part of that is because they (Brooklyn) didn’t need him to do it. Kevin Durant is out there, Kyrie Irving is out there.

“Now they need Ben Simmons to be Ben Simmons again.”

Simmons will have the perfect opportunity to prove his worth when Brooklyn hosts the NBA-leading Boston Celtics on Friday.

The Celtics are an impressive squad, led by the powerful duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and will provide a tough test for the Nets and Simmons at both ends of the floor.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics at the Barclays Center from 11:30 a.m. (AEDT) and live on ESPN and Kayo

Originally released as NBA 2023: Ben Simmons is back at his best, but his journey to redemption isn’t complete NBA 2023: Ben Simmons is back at his best, but his journey to redemption isn’t over yet

Ryan Sederquist

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