Who didn’t see this coming?
Four games into the season, Kyrie Irving yells at Ben Simmons to shoot the ball. The strong suggestion came on 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 the transition. He found Simmons in the paint to his left and shoved the ball into his backcourt next to a message picked up by broadcast microphones.
“Shoot, Ben,” Irving announced.
Ben didn’t shoot. He instead kicked it to Kevin Durant at the top of the three-point line. Durant then dribbled to the free throw line and pulled up for a jumper.
The play was a success. But the interaction is sure to spark skepticism about whether a Nets setup around Irving, Simmons, and Durant can actually work.
Simmons doesn’t shoot the ball in Brooklyn
Simmons made his Nets debut this month after a feud with the Philadelphia 76ers last season sparked a deadline trade that sent him to Brooklyn. Much of the disagreement between Simmons and the team that drafted him surrounded his reluctance to shoot the ball, most notably an open layup he passed in a playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Four games into his tenure with Nets, 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 goals per game. On Wednesday, he shot 2-for-7 from the field for seven points. The Nets blew their double-digit lead in the second half in a 110-99 loss and fell to 1-3.
A new lineup of Nets featuring Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons starts with 1-3. (Justin Ford/Getty Images)
How will the internal pressure on Simmons go?
In defense of Simmons, Wednesday’s missed shot didn’t equal his infamous decision against the Hawks. After getting the pass, he found Giannis Antetokounmpo standing between him and the basket, enough to give even the most confident NBA scorer a break.
It’s more Irving’s command to “shoot” that is noteworthy. Simmons cited a lack of support from his 76ers coaches and teammates amid mental health issues as a boost to his trade demand.
Irving painted his statement to Simmons as positive support when asked about it after the game. He was also dissatisfied with the subject.
“You keep coming in here and asking me how Ben is?” Irving said, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “He hasn’t played in two years. Give him a great chance. We’ll stick with his ***. You stay with him. But we’re here to give him positive affirmations.”
How Simmons interprets and responds to Irving’s pressure—and any others that will surely come if he refuses to fire—will be worth watching. With the Nets off to a 1-3 start, positivity could be hard to come by.