Ben Simmons Trade Talk: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
A Ben Simmons trade is on the way. Ben Simmons has been a popular figure in Philadelphia over the past few months, but for all the wrong reasons. A tumultuous partnership between Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers has left both sides ready to move on.
But how did things even reach this point? How could Ben Simmons, a 25-year-old three-time All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year (DPOTY) finalist be on the trade block? Why aren’t teams chomping at the bit to acquire such a player? A deeper look into Simmons’ game and his relationship with the 76ers provides some clarity on the biggest mystery of the NBA offseason.
Ben Simmons: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Drafted with the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft, Simmons’ tremendous size, athleticism, versatility, and playmaking abilities earned him the rare ‘generational talent’ label. Four seasons into his NBA career, Simmons’ unique skill set has made him an NBA star.
Simmons’ Elite Defense
There is no other way to put it; Simmons is an elite defender. He possesses all the tools necessary to excel on defense in the modern NBA.
His quick hands and feet allow him to check and pester ballhandlers on the perimeter. Simmons is great at navigating through screens, allowing him to blow up plays and force turnovers for his team.
His combination of speed, length (7’0” wingspan), and outstanding instincts make him a ball hawk in passing lanes as well. Simmons finished in the 97th percentile in deflections per 36 minutes (3.9) this season, and top-10 in steals per game in each of the last three seasons, including leading the league in 2019-20 (2.1).
Terrific Transition Skills
Simmons’ size (6’11”, 240lbs) allows him to lockdown bigger players, making him one of the league’s most versatile defenders. The chaos he creates on the defensive end allows him to do what he does best; get out in transition with the ability to score and make plays for others.
His speed with the ball is extraordinary for someone his size. He combines his speed with an excellent ability to read the floor, using his eyes, smarts, and freight train-like downhill presence to manipulate defenses. Put it all together, and it’s not hard to see why Simmons is a terror in transition for opposing teams.
Philadelphia has made the playoffs in each of Simmons’ four seasons, which is because of Simmons, not despite him. His skill set of elite finishing inside, defending, and playmaking has made him a key part of the 76ers success.
However, in all of these trips to the playoffs, the 76ers have not made it past the second round. While Simmons plays a big role in the 76ers success, his detractors believe his shortcomings have played an even bigger part in the 76ers playoff failures.
The shortcomings of Simmons’ game reside on the offensive end, specifically in the halfcourt. Simmons’ scoring effectiveness wanes the further he is from the basket, as he is not a threat spotting up from three or creating his shot on the perimeter.
How Teams Limit Ben Simmons’ Offense in the Playoffs
Nearly 90 percent of his field-goal attempts come within 10 feet of the basket. Simmons’ limited offensive repertoire gives defenses a simple way to limit him in the half-court; pack the paint and cut off his driving lanes. This is how the Boston Celtics kept Simmons in check in their 2018 playoff series, which the 76ers lost in five games. Simmons shot below 50 percent from the field in this series.
In the postseason, the pace slows down offering fewer transition opportunities and placing a greater emphasis on shot creation in the half-court. Frankly, Simmons cannot consistently create a shot for himself off the dribble. He has a limited array of post moves and his outside shooting remains non-existent.
These are big reasons why Simmons’ usage rate declines from the regular season to the postseason. He is not a go-to option in clutch situations, where he often stands on the baseline waiting for a dump-off pass by a driver.
This disrupts the spacing of the 76ers offense and relegates Simmons to an off-ball role in which he cannot be effective. This was most evident in Philadelphia’s series with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, where then-76er, Jimmy Butler, took over primary ball-handling duties, leaving Simmons in no man’s land.
Simmons 2021 Playoff Struggles
Simmons is also a poor free-throw shooter, which further jeopardizes his ability to stay on the floor late in games. In Philadelphia’s 2021 playoff run, he had a free-throw percentage of 34.2 percent. The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks did not hide their intentions of purposely fouling Simmons to make him shoot free throws.
He can also be overly passive on offense, which frustrates teammates, coaches, and fans of the 76ers. It all reached a boiling point in the Hawks series, where Simmons averaged a meager 9.9 points per game. Simmons’ most memorable play as a Sixer may be the play he didn’t make in Game 7 against the Hawks.
From that point, things continued to unravel. The 76ers have shopped Simmons around but to no avail. His massive contract (4 years, $147 million remaining) and playoff shortcomings have made teams wary of trading for Simmons.
It also does not help that 76ers GM Daryl Morey has reportedly demanded a king’s ransom in return for Simmons; at least four future first-round picks and an All-Star level player.
Simmons’ Status in Philadelphia
Last week, Ben Simmons and his camp met with 76ers management and demanded a trade out of Philadelphia. He has even accepted the possibility of skipping training camp and incurring hefty fines of 1.3 million if a trade does not happen.
Embiid came to Simmons’ defense on Twitter; well, he tried to at least. But there is no turning back from either side on the horizon. There’s no question of whether a Ben Simmons trade is going to happen; his next destination is still up in the air.
Where Does Ben Fit Best?
Presently, there have been five teams who are rumored to have serious interest in acquiring Simmons: The Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, and the Indiana Pacers. Philadelphia rebuffed Indiana’s offer of Malcolm Brogdon and draft picks for Simmons, so they appear to be off the table for now at least.
Simmons reportedly has an interest in playing for one of three California teams; the Warriors and Kings both fit the criteria and would be interesting destinations for the three-time All-Star. Simmons’ passing to Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would be a sight to see. The Kings’ up-tempo style and pace would blend well with Simmons’ elite transition abilities.
However, the Minnesota Timberwolves could be the best fit for Ben Simmons in a trade.
How Ben Simmons Could Fit in Minnesota
Simmons could slot into the power forward slot next to dynamic center Karl-Anthony Towns, functioning as a point-forward and creating one of the league’s best frontcourts. Towns’ abilities as a floor-spacing stretch five would mesh well with Simmons’ game as a slashing playmaker on offense. Former number one overall pick, Anthony Edwards, came on strong to end his rookie season, averaging 23.8 points on a 45.4 field goal percentage after the All-Star Break.
D’Angelo Russell is a solid lead guard who is a skilled playmaker with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble. His presence would place Simmons alongside Towns and two strong perimeter shot creators. This would allow Simmons to function as a do-it-all big similar to Bam Adebayo; one who screens and rolls to the basket, with the ability to handle the ball downhill in transition and make plays as a roll man.
We’ve seen it in brief stints, but this is a role Simmons has flourished in before; once in a playoff game against the Nets in 2019 to the tune of 31 points and 9 assists on 11-13 shooting:
And in a career night against the Utah Jazz this past season, with 42 points and 12 assists on 15-26 shooting:
Simmons can not play this way alongside Embiid, whose elite post prowess mandates that he positions himself inside and on the block; where Simmons operates best. In Minnesota, Towns is a player who is excellent at playing in the post and on the perimeter. Additionally, he is also an underrated passer who can hit cutters and shooters from the post. Towns has ranked in the 95th and 96th percentile of centers in assist percentage over the past 2 seasons.
What Would a Ben Simmons Trade to Minnesota Look Like?
Russell’s status in Minnesota could become cloudy if a Ben Simmons-Minnesota trade goes down. A solid lead guard and an All-Star in 2019, Russell could fit the bill as the All-Star level player the 76ers want in return for Simmons. He’s also 25 years old, so he would fit Philadelphia’s timeline nicely alongside core players Embiid and Tobias Harris.
However, Philadelphia has been in the market for more accomplished scoring guards such as Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and James Harden before he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Simmons would be the centerpiece in a deal for any of those three (already was with Harden), and Russell is a few tiers below those players from a talent perspective.
When you take into account Simmons’ elite defense and how it would benefit a Minnesota team that has not finished higher than 21st in defensive rating over the past six seasons, and his fit on the offensive side of the ball, Simmons would be a game-changing addition to the Minnesota franchise. Honestly, Simmons would be a game-changing addition wherever he ends up.
Yes, Simmons does have his well-documented flaws, but he is still a three-time All-Star at 25 years old with room to grow in the future. He is a highly productive player at both ends of the floor who can raise a team’s floor, and if he maximizes his potential, one that could raise a team’s ceiling as well.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images