The Brooklyn Nets were thought to be adding a skill set unlike any in franchise history when they traded for Ben Simmons. The 6-foot-11 point guard’s playmaking and scheme versatility were lauded as keys to the team’s new-look offense.

The Nets have not seen those results through four games. A loss in Milwaukee Wednesday dropped them to 1-3 on the season. Simmons is averaging just 5.3 points per game while Brooklyn ranks 18th in offensive rating.

Simmons and Nets head coach Steve Nash spoke of a high-tempo transition offense throughout the preseason. That has not come to fruition with Brooklyn ranking 18th in pace. Many expected Brooklyn’s 3-point shooters to thrive with the addition of Simmons. The Aussie ranked second among all NBA players in 3-pointers assisted on throughout his four NBA seasons. The Nets rank 22nd in 3-pointers attempted and 26th in 3-pointers made this season. You would think given their lack of 3-point attempts that Brooklyn is generating shots at the rim consistently. You would be incorrect, with the Nets ranking 27th.

A large portion of Brooklyn’s offensive inefficiency can be attributed to Simmons consistently sharing the floor with non-shooting centers in Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe. Many expected the Nets to frequently play the three-time All-Star as a point center in small-ball lineups, but Brooklyn has rarely shown the look thus far. Just 16 of Simmons’ 118 minutes have come without Claxton or Sharpe on the floor. While a small sample size, the Nets have played some of their best stretches during those minutes, making significant jumps in offensive, defensive and net rating, per PBP Stats:

Lineups with Claxton on the floor without Simmons have also been successful early, posting a positive net rating of 20.12 in 41 minutes.

These numbers point to one thing: It is time to give lineups with Simmons at the 5 an extended look. The Nets closed the first half Wednesday on a 16-7 run with a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Royce O’Neale, Kevin Durant, Yuta Watanabe and Simmons. Brooklyn also found success in spurts with small-ball lineups against Toronto.

Brooklyn’s spacing with Simmons and Claxton/Sharpe on the floor greatly limits what they can do offensively. This is evident when looking at the paint on this pair of Durant post-ups against Milwaukee. With Simmons and Claxton on the floor, Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo sit in the paint, creating a wall at the rim. Durant attempts to find Irving on a backdoor cut, who runs into the two 7-footers before forcing a pass that leads to a turnover:


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In the same look with Simmons at the 5, Brooklyn has Yuta Watanabe as a 3-point threat spaced on the wing in place of Claxton. O’Neale, another shooter, rotates towards Durant. Kyrie Irving begins to space to the corner after cutting through. Watanabe’s threat as a shooter forces Bobby Portis out of the paint and allows Durant to find Simmons backdoor for a wide-open layup:

Durant has the same idea on both of these plays but with contrasting lineups. The results are indicative of a large portion of Brooklyn’s offensive problems thus far. The combination of Simmons and Claxton/Sharpe condenses the floor and puts an immense amount of pressure on Durant and Irving as shot creators.

Not only will playing Simmons at center alleviate pressure on Brooklyn’s two best players, but it may also be the key to giving the former No. 1 pick confidence offensively. Simmons has looked extremely uncomfortable through four games, taking just 20 shots. The 26-year-old’s lack of aggressiveness has been concerning, especially in the second half of games. Nash said before Simmons’ Nets debut that Brooklyn’s message to the point guard was consistent throughout training camp.

“The message we’ve been giving him all along has been to put pressure on the defense,” Nash said. “Whether it’s throwing the ball ahead, pushing it in transition, or trying to break the paint every chance he gets in the half court.”

Brooklyn’s coaches can say this all they want, but for a player trying to regain his rhythm and confidence, navigating through a clogged paint and forcing offensively is not a recipe for success. Removing Claxton and Sharpe will open driving lanes for Simmons to do what he does best: penetrate and create for others.

The Nets’ ability to play Simmons at center for extended periods will vary depending on matchup. Teams like New Orleans and Memphis with bruising frontcourts that feature Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas, Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke will destroy the small-ball lineup on defense and the glass.

However, a team like Milwaukee presented a much better matchup with floor-spacing centers in Lopez and Portis. Yet, despite early success, the Nets were once again hesitant to lean into Simmons at the 5. The Dallas Mavericks present another favorable matchup for the look Thursday. Christian Wood and Maxi Kleber, Dallas’ two most-played big men, are floor spacers.

The Nets should play small ball for extended stretches Thursday if they hope to improve offensively and allow Simmons to find his groove.