Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn used a baseball reference to describe the direction he wants embattled forward Ben Simmons to trend toward this season.
Simmons, who left Thursday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons after getting hit in the face and did not return due to left knee soreness, missed Sunday’s cross-bridge rivalry showdown against the Knicks with knee soreness.
Vaughn declined to address Simmons’ absence specifically but used a general analogy to express his view.
“As a [baseball] manager, I [would] want to be able to pen in Cal Ripkin at third base or at shortstop. I do. That’s the way I look at it,” he said ahead of tip-off against the Knicks on Saturday. “And so I believe everyone’s approach should be based on that, where you want to be penned in on a nightly basis.”
Sunday marked the 11th game Simmons has missed with the Nets this season. It is the second time left knee soreness has kept him off the court, and the second time Simmons — who underwent a microdiscectomy procedure last summer — has pulled himself out with a left knee injury or issue in the second game of a back-to-back.
Vaughn also declined to address Simmons’ mentality specifically when it comes to being available for as many games as possible.
“There’s 17 dudes on one team, and to pinpoint one guy, I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “What I do do is I address the team and I ask them to take advantage of today, take advantage of your recovery day, like I talked about.
“Nothing’s changed in my message, nothings changed in my communication with this team. One through 17, whether it’s watching film with the 13th guy the other day, or watching film with the ninth guy this afternoon. It hasn’t changed, so I don’t want this approach to change from 1-17. Prepare yourself to be depended on a nightly basis and get penned into the lineup.”
Vaughn said Simmons’ absence against the Knicks on Sunday had nothing to do with getting swiped in the face. Simmons left the Detroit game after rookie Jaden Ivey swiped close to his eye on a drive to the rim.
“Purely the knee [keeping him out],” Vaughn said. “I think that was the drive that he got hit in the face on but it’s purely the knee.”
After missing the entire 2021-22 NBA season due to a combination of mental health issues and a herniated disk in his lower back, Simmons has struggled to find his footing. He went scoreless with seven assists in 20 minutes before pulling himself out of the Detroit game.
It marked his second scoreless game in the month of January and came one game after he went scoreless in the first half of the loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Simmons is averaging 5.7 points, 7.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game in the New Year. He has taken more than seven shots in a game just one this month and only seven times this season.
“You become what you think about,” Vaughn said after the loss to the Sixers. “So if you’re thinking about being aggressive, you will be aggressive. And if you think about being a good teammate, you’ll be a good teammate. If you think about competing and playing hard, you do those things. You become what you think about.”
The Nets are also without reserve wing T.J. Warren, who sustained a left shin contusion against the Pistons.
“Good thing I’m not a doctor,” Vaughn said. “We thought it was the knee. It was a little bit under the knee: it was the shin. He’s also day-to-day.”