Nets’ Ben Simmons plays high during winning streak: ‘Being himself’

ATLANTA — The Nets are on the longest winning streak in the league this season, and their best since 2005-06. And during this run, their best net rating doesn’t belong to top stars Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.

It belongs to Ben Simmons.

Going into Wednesday’s game with the Hawks, Simmons has the best net (+21.7) and defensive (106.6) rating on the team, as well as the best offensive rating (127.9) among players in regular rotation. What was the secret?

“I think he could probably answer that question better. But me as a teammate, just seeing him smile and have fun and be competitive is him being himself,” Irving said of Simmons. “So anytime he could just be himself and believe that we’ve got his back, I feel like he’s the best version of himself.”

This better version of himself is what Brooklyn expected at last season’s trade deadline when the Nets sent former MVP James Harden to Philadelphia for him.

Ben Simmons
NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets are figuring out how to move around high-IQ Simmons and play him in a way that allows him to not only co-exist with fellow non-shooter Nic Claxton, but thrive when needed. And on the other side, he’s starting to look like the star who was once a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year honor.

After jazz star Donovan Mitchell was seen as throwing shade at Simmons in the offseason, Simmons helped keep him to 15 points on just 5 of 16 shooting Monday night, barely half of his usual showy average of 28.9.

Now, there are reports that Harden may be looking to leave Philadelphia in free agency. After forcing his way out of the Rockets and Nets, if he also bolts the 76ers, he’ll start to look as fickle as a Kardashian’s dating history.

Ben Simmons defends in the Nets' win over the Cavaliers.
Ben Simmons defends in the Nets’ win over the Cavaliers.
NBAE via Getty Images

Seth Curry, who missed Monday’s win at Cleveland, was promoted to probable with a non-COVID illness. Joe Harris remained in Brooklyn, nursing a sore left knee, with his condition for Saturday in Charlotte up in the air.

David Duke Jr., Kessler Edwards, Day’Ron Sharpe and Alondes Williams were all eliminated against the Hawks, on assignment to the G-League.

The last time the Nets won nine straight, there was a surprising common denominator. Current coach Jacque Vaughn was a backup point guard on that team, and the win came against Phoenix star Steve Nash – who was Vaughn’s boss and predecessor until he parted ways with Brooklyn on November 1. .

Yuta Watanabe shoots .686 (24 of 35) from 3-point corners, the best in the league among anyone who has taken more than 20. He is 11 of 18 from the right and a near-automatic 13 of 17 from the left .

Royce O’Neale is 14 of 21 behind the arc in his last four games.

Kyrie Irving has donated an additional $15,000 to a GoFundMe for a Long Island man who lost his Southampton home to a fire.

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