NEW YORK — After Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons played just 13 minutes — his second-lowest total of the season — off the bench in Monday night’s 124-106 loss to the crosstown rival New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, coach Jacque Vaughn admitted it will be challenging to find ways to get Simmons more minutes without the star power of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to draw defenses away from him.
“It’s going to be some work that we have to do,” Vaughn said. “Because you just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like. You put another big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put another playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then if you go small with Ben, then you have to figure out can you rebound enough with him?
“So, the challenges are ahead of us. We’ll look them head-on. We’ll figure it out. We have the personnel to figure it out. Whether it is me mixing and matching throughout different pieces of the game, and allowing him to have a group and run with a group, that part we’ll figure out, but you see the challenges that lie ahead.”
Simmons, who came to Brooklyn just over a year ago as part of the trade that sent James Harden to Philadelphia, played 16 minutes Saturday in the loss to the 76ers — the first game in which the Nets had their full complement of players after sending Irving to the Dallas Mavericks and Durant to the Phoenix Suns ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline — before the 13 minutes he played Monday night.
In both games, he sat for the final several minutes of the fourth quarter — as he did in his first game against former co-star Joel Embiid last month in Philadelphia.
Simmons, who did not speak to reporters Monday, finished with 2 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists against the Knicks, and took just two shot attempts.
Vaughn added that he was searching for ways to generate extra offense on a night when the Nets struggled to keep up with the Knicks, who were led by 40 points from Jalen Brunson and a season-high 27 from Josh Hart in his second game for New York following last week’s trade with the Portland Trail Blazers. Vaughn pointed to the fact that Nic Claxton played just 23 minutes as a sign that it wasn’t all about Simmons.
“With Brunson being out there, trying to throw different bodies with him,” Vaughn said. “We’re always concerned about [rebounding], so didn’t want Ben to be the lone big out there. We tried him with another big; I didn’t like that rhythm of the game because we weren’t scoring enough at that time. A lot of different problems thrown at you in the course of a game; you try to figure them out.”
That includes trying to figure out the best way to use Simmons, who is a three-time All-Star and third-team All-NBA selection in the past but is averaging 7.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game this season for Brooklyn .
“I think overall, and tonight, just what we want from each guy is to give everything, every ounce that they have, every single game,” Vaughn said when asked whether he needs to see something from Simmons for him to get more minutes. “All 16 guys are in that bucket. Trying to figure out what lineup fits around Ben, what position fits for Ben, how we can make him look good at every opportunity. That’s the goal. I’m still trying to figure that out. That’s on me to figure that out. But I think overall as a team, we’re going to try different lineups to try to figure this out.”