Ben Simmons played basketball | defector

As of Monday night, Ben Simmons had not played NBA basketball since missing a wide-open dunk in the dying minutes of Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. Simmons’ saga took so many turns in the 470 days between that Hawks game and yesterday that it was hard to remember that his comeback from the lowest moment of his career hadn’t even really begun. The first step is finally out of the way thankfully.

Simmons played 19 minutes in a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, recording six points, along with five assists and four rebounds. What did he look like playing professional organized basketball for the first time in over a year and a half? Well, he looked like Ben Simmons. That said, he walked well on the ground, played good defence, made a nice pass…

… and did this too:

Simmons also missed his only two free throws and heard some boos from fans, but none of that seemed to bother him too much. He told reporters after the game that he was more excited than nervous to play and described himself as “grateful” to be able to return to an NBA court. “I had a lot of fun out there,” he said.

Last month, Simmons sat down with former teammate JJ Redick for an hour-long podcast episode in which he came off like a guy who’s made peace with the current state of his career. It’s obviously Simmons’ duty to try and redeem his image, and Redick was as friendly an audience as he could have wished, but listening to him it really felt like he was ready to leave all this chaos behind.

If he really does, a good first step for Simmons and his teammates would be to accept his game as it currently exists. Lost in all the debate about what Simmons can’t or shouldn’t do on the court is the fact that the current version of him that exists as a basketball player is perfectly fine. No, he’ll never be an MVP or the best player on a competing team, and yes, he’ll routinely take jumpers that threaten to clink off the underside of the rim, but he can do plenty of other things. A 6-foot-10-point center that defends like hell, hits the break and passes like a genius is a pretty ideal running mate for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. So let this be the season where Ben Simmons just plays basketball the way he’s supposed to and leaves all the psychodrama to his teammates. Ben Simmons played basketball | defector

John Verrall

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