The National Hockey League doesn’t have the only old vs. young beef in pro sports at the moment — especially with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers having their own gripe to settle between a vet and a young player.
Nets’ veteran Jared Dudley and Sixers all-star Ben Simmons are butting heads. No, they haven’t thrown hands, and they almost certainly won’t throw hands because basketball players rarely do that. But the back-and-forth between the two is something you don’t usually see between two mild-mannered players, especially not with such a wide age gap.
In this case, Dudley took a shot at Simmons, saying “He’s a great player in transition, and once you get him in the half court, he’s average.” Simmons is a first-time all-star injustice in his second season. His response to Dudley, a 33-year-old veteran whose career has spanned 11 years across six teams?
If we’ve learned anything about Simmons this week, it’s that he might have a little more of a mouth on him than we thought.
How the heck did we even get here? Let’s rewind to the beginning.
Dudley had Simmons’ number in Game 1
Again, Dudley is 33 and Simmons is 22. Simmons, more athletic than Dudley has ever been, should have the physical tools to exploit this matchup. Instead, Dudley held Simmons to just two points (!!) on one-of-five shooting (!/!!!!!) on the 22 possessions he defended him that night.
Probably safe to file Dudley away as a halfway-decent defender, right? Right.
The Nets went on to steal Game 1 in Philly, 111-102.
But Dudley didn’t play in Game 2
He sat out to recover from a calf injury. While Dudley sat out, Simmons morphed into the most aggressive version of himself. He became the player the 76ers need him to be if they want to have any chance at competing for a championship, let alone escaping this hellacious series against Brooklyn for a dance with Toronto in the second round.
Simmons put up a triple-double: 18 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. He set the pace for the Sixers to pull off a playoff record 51-point third quarter. The Sixers absolutely pummeled the Nets, 145-123. All the while, Dudley sat on the sidelines.
Then, the Nets had a practice
And in that practice, Dudley had some not-so kind words to say about the Sixers’ all-star.
“Ben Simmons is a great player in transition,” he said. “And once you get him into halfcourt, he’s average.”
Average? For an all-star? The Australian sensation who was dubbed the second coming of Lebron James? That’s disrespectful. It’s also kinda true, which is neither here nor there.
To be fair, that was only a portion of what he said. Dudley broke down the team defensive scheme and the individual task of defending such a talented player. “Simmons is really the key,” he said. “In transition, he’s hard to guard. In the half court, we’ve had our successes.”
He also took a friendly jab: “I might put him on the free-throw line. Let’s see if he can make free throws. This is not Steph Curry shooting free throws. It’s something he struggled with.”
Of course, reporters did their thing. On Thursday, Simmons was asked about Dudley’s comments. His response: “That’s coming from Jared Dudley.” Nothing more. Nothing less.
Maybe this was a trap. Maybe this is Dudley’s attempt to play some mind games as a veteran playing with a young star. Or maybe it’s just a back-and-forth between two players competing in the playoffs.
Whatever it is, it makes for much more interesting series that’s heading back to Brooklyn for Game 3. Embiid also drew ire from Nets players and fans after he “inadvertently” elbowed Jarrett Allen in the head on an attack to the rim, then laughed about it in the postgame press conference.
This series just got so much more fun. And somehow, Dudley and Simmons are at the center of it.