Brooklyn Nets playmaker Ben Simmons is no stranger to criticism for his performances on the court, but he knows his teammates are in his corner.
"I'm coming," Simmons told reporters after finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in Thursday's 109-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. "I'm getting there, man. It's taking a little bit of time, but I got my own back. My teammates got my back, my coaches."
This season figures to be a process for Simmons, who sat out the entire 2021-22 campaign and has missed five games this year with a swollen left knee.
His most notable teammate recognized that while praising his "incredible" showing.
"I'm just happy for him because he's been trying to get his form back, trying to figure his rhythm out," Kevin Durant said. "Tonight I think he did a good job just talking up, commanding the offense, commanding the team on the defensive side of the ball. He was incredible tonight. So we're going to keep building on that and hopefully we're able to get this next one, but he controlled the game and was able to get us back into it."
Brooklyn surely imagined Simmons would do a bit of everything as a role player alongside Durant and Kyrie Irving when it traded for him. The presence of the two superstars means less pressure on the LSU product to score, but the two-time All-Defensive First Team selection is still expected to make an impact elsewhere.
Head coach Jacque Vaughn echoed those sentiments.
"Kind of what we envisioned him doing everything for us," he said. "The defensive versatility of guarding [Jusuf] Nurkić and also Damian Lillard. A lot of people can't do that. And we can continue to grow with him and understand him, his game, how he benefits, with who. It's very encouraging."
The Trail Blazers attempted to put pressure on Simmons offensively in the final minutes when they intentionally fouled him, but he responded by making three out of four free throws and helping ice the game.
Simmons' appreciation of his teammates' support was notable considering the aftermath of his final game for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia lost to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the second round of the 2021 NBA playoffs, and Simmons infamously passed up an open dunk, attempted just four field goals in the game and shot an ugly 33.3 percent from the free-throw line throughout the series.
His focus is on returning to form as a member of the Nets, and the team is looking to do the same after a slow start to the season. Brooklyn is just 7-9 and sitting on the outside of the early Eastern Conference playoff picture in 11th place, but things have gone better after a dismal 1-5 start.
If Simmons can consistently impact the game in a number of ways as a secondary playmaker like he did Thursday, the ceiling for the Nets will be much higher.