Ben Simmons is recovering. And he is recovering.
Considering the All-Star hasn’t played since June 2021 – besieged by a nasty back and nerve damage that experts accuse him of faking – it can be predicted that he will follow the pass even after rehab. And while Simmons isn’t yet 100 percent into Saturday’s fight against the Pacers, the last few games are a tantalizing taste of what can happen when he gets there.
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Kyrie Irving pointed to confidence, while coach Jacque Vaughn called it a «body part.» Not surprisingly, Markieff Morris was more outspoken. New York Post reports.
«He’s healthy. He finally got his legs under him. He’s off for two years. You won’t even give him a chance. You want to criticize him after every damn game,» Morris said. But the guy didn’t play for two years. Frankly, you wouldn’t know because neither of you played in the NBA. He needs to fix his body. There is contact every night. Playing more than 30 minutes takes time.”
It took some time, the way back is not only long and winding, but physically and mentally demanding.
The level of anger Simmons received in Philadelphia is well documented, some absurdly misguided. A Sydney Morning Herald story reported that students were dropping their STEM scholarships because their name was added.
Shaquille O’Neal described the Australian as a «punk move». Charles Barkley claimed last season that he was faking to avoid playing for Philadelphia. ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith described it as a «disgrace» and «the weakest, most pathetic excuse for a professional athlete» in history.
After a herniated L4 disc and nerve damage, Simmons had a microdiscectomy in May and has been running steadily ever since.
Now that the work has paid off, Simmons isn’t ready to say he’s received the receipts, but he admits he can’t help but hear the noise from outside.
Yes and no. Frankly, I see some of the things being said,” Simmons said. «But I know where I am, so I just push myself and try to get back to where I need to be to help the team win.»
Simmons has done more than that recently as he returns to optimal condition.
«It’s really a body part,» Vaughn said.
In the first 14 games, Simmons averaged 5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists with five misses without a single double-digit score. He shot 44.4 percent off the field and was the team’s worst at minus -4.8 per game.
But even since sitting down against the Lakers on November 13 to rest his swollen knee, Simmons has been improving rapidly. He averaged 14.6 points, 7 rebounds and 6.4 assists. He shoots with 78.6 percent and leads the team with a total plus-35.
«He just plays with a lot more confidence and it starts with that inner conviction,» said Irving, who has known Simmons for years through his associate high school coach Kevin Boyle.
“She needs to believe in herself… I’m proud of her. I just want him to continue to be consistent in his approach. And there you can tell how much fun he was having, especially on the defensive side. It makes a big difference for us.”
Adds Simmons: «Yeah, I feel it. [the confidence]. I know who I am, I know what I can do. I know what this team wants me to do, so I will continue to train, be consistent with my body and on the court.»
After embarking on this journey with just six blocks all season, Simmons has made five appearances in the last two games. With six steals in a row, this is when he feels most defensively active.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever felt. Obviously, this is back-to-back too. I guess my minutes were supposed to be lower but I was trying to push myself,” said Simmons, speaking towards the end of the first half, trying to get back onto the field.
He was telling me to put him back in the last three minutes of half. I said wait, but he said, ‘I’m feeling good,'» said Vaughn. «When he tells me he’s feeling good, he tells himself he’s feeling good and wants to play more, which is great.»
This article was originally published at: New York Post and reproduced with permission.
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