New York Notes: Simmons, Claxton, Randle, Knicks Centers

Health and confidence are the primary reasons Ben Simmons has performed well lately for the Nets, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post.

After missing all of last season due to mental health issues and later a herniated disc in his back, which required surgery in May, Simmons had a slow start to the 2022/23 campaign, averaging just 5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 44.4% from the floor and 46.7% from the line through nine games (27.3 MPG). He also missed five games while dealing with knee soreness and swelling.

However, over the past six games (31.1 minutes), Simmons has started to look more like his old self, averaging 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 82.0% from the field and 61.1% from the charity stripe. The 26-year-old swingman still isn’t 100 percent yet, according to Lewis, but he’s clearly making progress.

Healthy. Finally got his legs under him. He was off for two years. Y’all won’t even give him a chance. Y’all want to criticize him after every f–king game,” Markieff Morris said. “But the guy didn’t play two years. Obviously, y’all wouldn’t know, because none of y’all played in the NBA. He’s got to get his body right. There’s contact every night. Playing 30-plus minutes, it takes time.”

Simmons says he’s still working on finding consistency with his health and play.

Yeah, I feel [the confidence]. I know who I am, I know what I’m capable of. I know what this team needs me to do, so I’m going to keep working and being consistent with my body and on the court,” he said.

Here’s more on the two New York-based teams:

  • Can Simmons and center Nic Claxton overcome spacing concerns and coexist in the Nets‘ starting lineup? Lewis tackles that subject in a member-only article for The New York Post. Head coach Jacque Vaughn acknowledged it will be a challenge at times. “Something we’ve got to figure out,” Vaughn said. “Because both guys do present some positives for us. Hopefully we can lean into the defensive piece with their length with Kevin (Durant) out there on the floor at the same time. But we do have to work through some spacing. We’ll try to play fast. Nic has that ability to run the floor and play fast, so hopefully we won’t have a bunch of sets in the halfcourt that we’ve got to make our way through.”
  • Power forward Julius Randle says he’s still adjusting to “playing off the ball more” after the Knicks signed point guard Jalen Brunson in the offseason, according to Peter Botte of The New York Post. As Botte notes, New York ran a lot of its offense through Randle from 2020-22, when he averaged 5.6 assists per game. That figure is down to 3.0 per night in ’22/23, but he’s scoring more efficiently. “Just making the game easy, try and make efficient shots and keep the flow of the offense going,” Randle said. “I think it’s the flow of our offense. Break it down, see more, especially in my position where shots are coming from [and being] responsible for getting good shots … figuring out what spots for most efficient shots.”
  • The Knicks have played all three of their centers — Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims — three games in a row. Head coach Tom Thibodeau says that won’t always be the case, but he’s a fan of having so many options at the five spot. “It’s game-to-game. It’ll sort itself out,” Thibodeau said, per Zach Braziller of The New York Post. “I don’t think it’ll be like that every game. But I love the depth at that position. So all three guys are more than capable, all three can start, all three can come off the bench. It’s a good luxury to have.”
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