‘He’s a tough guy to game plan for’ – The Denver Post


Like the rest of the NBA, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra went 470 days without seeing Ben Simmons play basketball before Simmons made his Nets debut against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.

And like many of Simmons’ past opponents, Spoelstra knows just how difficult a matchup the Nets’ new point guard has been.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Thursday’s matchup between the Nets and Heat, Miami’s coach detailed exactly why Simmons is one of the most difficult players to check in all of basketball.

“He is a tough guy to game plan for because so much of what he does is in the open court or those unscripted plays,” Spoelstra said. “His size, his ability to pass and his passing angles are much different than smaller players. He can just throw it over the top of a lot of different coverages. You’re just happy he’s back out there competing again [after being out an entire season].”

That’s just defending Simmons. The challenge ahead for the Nets lies in deploying effectively on both ends of the floor.

For head coach Steve Nash, Simmons is a positionless player: Kyrie Irving deferred to him as the de facto point guard after tip-off in Game 1, but Nash also used Simmons as a center on defense in minutes with Nic Claxton on the bench, as well as a screen-and-roll man on offense. Simmons can take a pass after a screen directly to the rim, but Nash also wants him to operate as a playmaker out of the short roll, forcing the defense to protect the rim while he uses his passing abilities to find an open teammate.

“[He’s] very unique, very versatile and I think the versatility is going to be a huge part of our team,” Nash said ahead of tipoff against the Heat on Thursday. “For us it’s about trying to get a clarity in his mind of how we want him to play. How do we want to [get] the best out of him? Because it is different. He’s played one way for the first part of his career, now we’re getting to a place where [the way he plays is] very different than he did in Philly.”

Nash said one of the challenges ahead lies in minutes Simmons shares with Claxton as the starting center on the floor. Neither are competent shooters outside of the paint and both have track records as particularly poor free throw shooters.

“We’ve got to find a kind of a template for how we want him to play in that scenario too, which can be really positive, as well,” Nash said. “So he’s just getting him used to all the different kinds of roles that he’s going to play with our group and how we want to play. And as we progress on that process, I think we’ll see a really great Ben Simmons.”


Nash said wings Joe Harris and Royce O’Neale are not competing for the starting job or for minutes, despite the likely starting lineup including all three of Simmons, Kevin Durant and Irving, plus Claxton as the starting center.

“I think they are both going to play a lot,” he said. “I don’t know if one is taking minutes from the other. I think I feel they are both going to play a lot of minutes and play a big role.”

For what it’s worth, Nash did play both O’Neale and Harris together in the preseason opener in minutes where Claxton was on the bench. O’Neale and Harris are both elite shooters — though Harris has led the NBA in three-point percentage twice in a three-season span  — but O’Neale has earned a reputation as a versatile and gritty defender.

Spoelstra suggested Harris is an underrated defender.

“I think a lot of people probably outside of Brooklyn have forgotten about Harris,” he said. “But he’s a proven two-way player in this league.”


The Miami Heat lost veteran forward P.J. Tucker to the 76ers in free agency this offseason. Tucker played an integral role on both ends of the floor as a corner three specialist providing spacing on offense who doubles as one of the NBA’s grittiest inside-outside defenders.

Spoelstra said losing Tucker is part of the business of basketball and said the team is happy it was able to come to terms on extensions with Caleb Martin (three years, $20.5M) and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro, who signed a new four-year deal worth $130M.

With All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry still on the roster, Spoelstra said replacing Tucker’s impact is going to be a process that takes some time.

“Tuck had a major influence on our team, there’s no denying that, but our guys have been around long enough that you just have to expect that there will be some change,” he said. “You’re not going to plug somebody in to be him. I don’t want that. You know that it’ll look different, and that’s what I want to be intentional about being open-minded. I’d like to be different and hopefully better, and it might be two or three different players. It might be one, but I don’t know at this point.”



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