What if I told you that there was an All-Star whose current team holds him back in the worst of ways and that Minnesota could be the perfect place for him to evolve from a star into a true superstar?
Well, the Timberwolves are now officially on the clock in this month’s NBA Draft, armed with a number one pick they determined to sell in order to build an asset chest worthy of unloading for a star player.
It is nearly impossible to confidently put your finger on the direction in which this hyper-aggressive front office wants to go. Whether it be a blockbuster trade for a disgruntled or ill-fitting star that becomes available, a trade down for a prospect the Wolves have their eyes on, or actually making a selection at number one, the Wolves will keep us guessing for two more weeks. Rosas has Woj in his back pocket and leaks information strategically to create leverage. If Golden State stops leaking information left and right, expect to see multiple reports of the Wolves being “very high” on multiple prospects; public chatter stirs the pot and is an attempt to create the perception that the pick may hold more value than it actually does. By the time November 18th rolls around, however, there could very well be no established stars that are available, either publicly or privately, that make sense for the Wolves to pursue with the draft’s top pick.
However, the one player I would keep an eye on is Ben Simmons.
Just like Devin Booker does, Simmons has a well-noted history with the Timberwolves’ young All-Stars, particularly with D’Angelo Russell. D-Lo and Ben Simmons played together in high school at Montverde Academy (FL), one of the nation’s top prep schools. The pair went 45-2 in two seasons and won the Geico Nationals Championship in both 2013 and 2014. Russell and Simmons flashed excellent chemistry - on and off the floor - and are still good friends to this day. In a quote for the Pick and Roll, Simmons spoke highly of his former teammate: “Moving to America and going to high school, he was the guy. He was the main player on the team so there was always a competitive practice environment. For me, I always got better each day being around him.” Towns and Simmons go back to high school as well; the two first met when Karl’s St. Joseph’s squad clashed with Montverde in February 2014, and the two have remained friends since, despite Simmons putting Towns in a rear-naked choke hold back at the start of the season.
“I’m about to demand a trade to MN” pic.twitter.com/iJsSjc3pKL— Barflaan Tedoe (@The_Barftender) August 16, 2020
Yeah, that happened last season. What a year.
Whether Simmons is interested in leaving Philly, or joining Minnesota, is unknown, but there has been some buzz linking Simmons and the Wolves, which has only been amplified by recent hirings. Rashad Phillips, an NBA Draft prospect evaluator, offered his thoughts:
Doc Rivers is going to try an trade Ben Simmons to Minnesota for the number 1 pick and take Lamelo Ball in Philly. Good chess move Doc. #TalkSoon pic.twitter.com/G68zZJCCT8— Rashad Phillips (@RP3natural) October 2, 2020
Whether the tweet is backed with inside/sourced knowledge or is just conjecture is unknown, but every Wolves fan should be hoping there is steam behind it.
Earlier this month, Minnesota potentially began planting the seeds to land Simmons when the team filled the vacancy on its coaching staff (left by player development coach Brian Randle accepting an assistant coach role on Monty Williams’s staff in Phoenix) by hiring former Sixers assistant coach Joseph Blair, who was in Philly for just one season. This is very notable, because before the Wolves went after D’Angelo Russell, they hired Pablo Prigioni, who played a key role in Russell’s ascension from young castaway in LA to All-Star point guard with the Brooklyn Nets. While Blair’s role on the Philadelphia staff was never explicitly defined publicly during his tenure, Ky Carlin of USA Today noted he “oversaw Philadelphia’s offensive production.” Prior to his arrival in Philadelphia, he was the head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the G-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets, where his team won the 2019 G-League Championship in his lone season at the helm. Wolves President of Basketball Operation Gersson Rosas got his start with the same club.
In September of 2012, Rosas was promoted to Executive Vice President of Basketball of the Rockets by Daryl Morey, who was hired on Wednesday as the President of Basketball Operations for the Sixers. Wolves beat writer and Canis contributor Dane Moore offered his thoughts on the hire:
Umm... big for Timberwolves trade partnership reasons. Actually, I’d say it’s huge.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) October 28, 2020
The Rosas-Morey connection is REAL. https://t.co/qs9ryuRRl7
As Dane notes, the connection is very much real: Morey and Rosas are two of the more creative - and aggressive - front office minds in the league. During Gersson’s six-year run as EVP in Houston, no front office made more trades than the Rockets. The former running mates put that creativity and aggression full display when the two quarterbacked an insanely complex four-team, 12-player trade machine special in February that sent Robert Covington to Houston and landed Malik Beasley in Minnesota. Without help from Morey facilitating that trade, Rosas would have likely been unable to take back Jacob Evans III and Omari Spellman from Golden State in the D’Angelo Russell deal while also staying under the cap. In other words, D-Lo likely is not a Timberwolf without Daryl’s role in the deal.
On the flip side, acquiring Robert Covington was Morey’s all-in move that evolved the Rockets from a halfway in, halfway out small-ball lineup to a historically small and incredibly efficient lineup that will be an analytics case study for years to come. Covington could not have been a better fit as a versatile defender who doubles a smart, high volume 3-point shooter. The fact that the two made a very mutually beneficial deal less than a year into Rosas’s tenure in Minnesota says a lot about the respect the two have for each other and how well they work together.
Time will tell what comes of the present connections between the Wolves and the Sixers, but in the mean time, let’s get into what Ben Simmons brings to the table.
- Team: Philadelphia 76ers
- College: Louisiana State
- Age: 24
- Experience: Fourth Season
- Position: Point Forward
- Height: 6’10”
- Wingspan: 7’0”
- Weight: 240 pounds
Per game: 16.4 points, 8.0 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 steals*, 0.6 blocks 3.5 turnovers in 35.4 minutes (*led league)
Shooting splits: 58.0 FG% / 62.1 FT% / 28.6 3P% on 11.4 FGA / 5.2 FTA / 0.1 3PA
Advanced: 60.2 TS%, 58.1 eFG%, 20.9 USG%, .165 WS/48 minutes, 3.6 BPM, 2.00 PIPM (0.27 OPIPM, 1.72 DPIPM), 0.14 RAPM
Similarity Score + Contract Information
Simmons is about to enter the first year of a five-year, $170 million max contract, so I will not calculate a similarity score or compare him to any current free agent.
As a member of the the NBA’s 2019-20 First Team All-Defense, Ben Simmons proved that he can raise hell for opposing offenses this past season. The Sixers utilized him in a variety of ways defensively last season, but his defensive acumen at the point of attack particularly intrigues me because it is where his unique combination of athleticism, length, instincts, hands, and timing can be most effectively weaponized.
To start with, Simmons is 6-foot-10, 240 pounds and has a 7-foot wingspan, but is one of the most explosive athletes in the entire league, and has the hands/instincts of a point guard, all while consistently being bigger and more physical than almost every player he matches up against on the perimeter. When you view him through that lens, it is no surprise that this dude destroys on the defensive end of the floor.
In this play, Simmons understands the personnel involved; he smells blood in the water. His matchup is Bradley Beal - one of the league’s most potent scorers - and the ball handler is rookie big Admiral Schofield. Schofield squares his shoulders to Beal while setting up the handoff, which exposes the ball to the defender. Beal realizes that Simmons would get in between him and Schofield on a traditional handoff, so he tries to reject it and get downhill for a pass. However, because Schofield exposes the ball and has firmly committed to handing it off, Simmons gets aggressive and pounces on him for a perfectly-timed steal to turn defense into offense. He immediately gets his head up going down the floor and makes a great pass to Horford for an easy deuce on the other end.
Here, Simmons gets over a screen from Mo Wagner, and draws Beal in an iso situation. Unlike most perimeter defenders in the league, Simmons chooses to attack Beal and take space from the two-time All-Star, because he is quick enough laterally to stay with Beal. In doing so, he baits Beal into using a dribble move to gain back that lost space, and Simmons takes his cookies and makes an athletic off-hand finish in transition.
Simmons is one of the NBA’s elite off-ball defensive players. He combines a terrific understanding of his physical gifts with excellent court vision, defensive IQ, and discipline. The result is countless truly special plays on defense, of which I can only spotlight a few that do his abilities justice.
In this next clip, which is from a must-win game that had potential seeding implications for later in the playoffs, Simmons stepped up to the plate in a major way down the stretch. For context, inbounding from the sideline makes things tough on the defense (compared to inbounding from the baseline) for a few reasons: first, you can run misdirection plays to get guys going to the rim; second, you can run a primary action leading into a secondary action more easily; and third, it can be easier to get more favorable matches on switches.
Simmons communicates a seamless switch when Turner comes to screen him, gets physical with Turner when the big man tries to seal him, and then stays on Turner’s inside hip to maintain excellent position for getting a deflection or steal. Sure enough, he gets the tip, but then has the presence of mind to turn and throw the ball up the floor to Tobias Harris, opposed to Embiid, who could have gotten trapped just beyond half court.
Based on his athleticism and positioning alone, it is very easy to see how Simmons averaged 3.9 deflections per game, good for third in the league.
Very few players in the NBA are able to consistently come up with steals trailing curls and PnR ball-handlers, but Simmons manages to do so. Here, Zach LaVine is coming for a handoff around Luke Kornet, but Simmons is so close to Zach that LaVine has to come around for a curl, which forces Kornet to hesitate just enough on the pass for Simmons to fight around the big and steal the bounce pass. Do you have an idea of where this is heading next? Simmons wastes no time getting out and running the break, resulting in an easy bucket for Shake Milton.
Simmons is unafraid to help on the drive as well, where he often puts his hands and timing on display with timely swipes at the ball that create turnovers or downhill attacks from offensive players with mismatches.
Simmons has terrific timing with swiping at the ball whether he's playing on the ball or off.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 29, 2020
It's just unfair that a player with his combination of size, strength, and speed also has incredible hands on D. pic.twitter.com/KK2mDToctq
I may catch some heat for this one, but Simmons may be my pick for the most impressive athlete in the NBA. The burst and acceleration he possesses at his size is unbelievable, whether it be off the dribble in the half court, filling a lane in transition, running the break, or chasing someone down for a block. Simmons is one of the league’s very best with the ball in his hands in the open floor. He is excellent at attacking defenses to score and has a mastery of space in transition as a playmaker.
Simmons stands out on film because he does two things at a higher level than just about anyone in the league: 1) turning defense into offense and 2) pushing the pace when he rebounds the ball.
What makes Simmons so lethal is how quickly he can turn defense into offense.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 15, 2020
His hands + timing on defense are incredible.
Ben often pokes the ball loose from behind then uses his athleticism to run the floor and attack in transition, where he feasts on opposing defenses. pic.twitter.com/ULXCu3ICmm
In these clips, you will notice that after Simmons pokes the ball loose, he immediately goes and makes himself available to run the break. He itches to get out and use his otherworldly athleticism to put pressure on the transition defense and create easy buckets for his team.
This would not be a Canis Hoopus breakdown if I opted out of showing the Wolves on the other end of a clip now would it? Here, Simmons makes an athletic play to tip and intercept Jordan Bell’s lob pass to Andrew Wiggins (man, that feels weird to type). He takes a couple dribbles, scans the floor in an instant, looks off Bell by staring down Matisse Thybulle, and then throws a no-look beauty to Tobias Harris for an easy two.
Players like Ben Simmons can single-handedly turn the tides of games as a result of their energy on one end energizing the team on the other. This is a great example. In a game where Philly led most of the way, San Antonio kept getting within a possession or two, but were kept at bay because of plays like this. Aldridge thinks he has a mismatch in the post (nope!) with Simmons on his back, and tries to be physical with him, but Simmons eats him alive in the form of swiping down when he exposes the ball for a steal. When he gets the pass from Horford, Simmons realizes his shooter in Korkmaz will flow to the corner and that Thybulle will fill the lane to the rim, so he smartly dribbles to the middle of the floor to force both Murray and DeRozan to commit to him, which opens up a lane for the rook to send it in for a slam. I have watched this play maybe 15 or 20 times and I just cannot get over how smart Simmons is in transition.
This was easily one of the wilder plays I saw Simmons make in my deep dive into his 2019-20 seasons. After stumbling on D, he recovers to double block DeRozan on the drive, runs the break, hits Bryn Forbes with a little streetball move to get him to hunch over for a second and then hits Harris for an and-1. He is so much fun with the ball in the open court.
When he grabs the rebound and pushes the pace, Simmons often looks to score because defenses (and frankly, half the time his teammates) are not set in transition. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor notoriously asserts that Ben Simmons shoots with the wrong hand and it is not hard to see why. In this play, Simmons corrals the board and attacks a much smaller Bruce Brown, draws the contact, and finishes a beautiful floater with his off-hand for an and-1 to start the game. How many players in the league confidently can shoot a floater with the off-hand (and not just to draw a foul, either)? Jokic might be the only other guy I can think of who may be ambitious enough to try something like this.
Even when he does not have the ball on the break, he is just as effective. After Korkmaz grabs the miss, Simmons quickly realizes that Furkan wants to run the break from the middle of the floor, so he loops around poor Cedi Osman to perfectly fill the lane and open an easy passing lane for his ball handler for a throwdown.
What about transition defense?
Simply put, Simmons can terrorize opponents with his athleticism while playing transition defense. Just look at where Brogdon is with the ball when Simmons takes off. The amount of ground he covers here is laughable. Malcolm has absolutely no chance.
Simmons is a tremendous transition talent who can spark runs that swing games with one or two plays that all originate from his refusal to give up on a play in which there is an impact to be made. Few players hustle on a nightly basis like Simmons does, which makes him a player who is easy to love.
On the offensive end of the court, Simmons is a gifted playmaker who uses his size very well. As I have noted throughout this piece, the Australia native has a crazy combination size, speed, physicality, agility, and ball handling. Largely because of this, despite the glaring lack of a perimeter jump shot, he consistently remains both a highly effective passer and scorer with legitimate gravity when he attacks downhill in the half court.
Last season, Joseph Blair and Brett Brown largely had Simmons playing the 1, which gave him the opportunity to more frequently attack in the PnR with Joel Embiid. Given his length and speed, he can cover a ton of ground with limited dribbles, which makes him a devastating ball handler in the high screen and roll. Here, Embiid sets a fantastic screen on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Simmons blazes past Marc Gasol for a thunderous jam at the rim.
One dribble is all it takes him to effortlessly get home for a dunk from the 3-point line. One.
Simmons’s advanced vision and understanding of spacing translates well to half court offense as well. In this play, Josh Richardson drops it off to him for a drive into the rim. Simmons sees that all five defenders are below the free-throw line, so he collapses the defense on him and then turns, jumps, and throws a dart back out to Richardson for a wide open 3. The fluidity he plays with makes plays like these look effortless. If any of us tried anything even remotely close to this, the ball is flying into the fourth row or we are limping back to the locker room.
Where Simmons is most effective is getting into the lane and kicking out to open shooters.
15 players had > 1400 MP + took > 50% of their shots at the rim in '19-20.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) October 31, 2020
Only 4 had a rim frequency over 70%, 3 being centers. Ben Simmons was the fourth, and did so while having the second-lowest percentage of assisted FGM at the rim in the group, trailing only Giannis. pic.twitter.com/FR13mKN9tS
To contextualize Simmons’s specialty at getting to the rim, think about Duncan Robinson as a 3-point shooting specialist. 66.5 percent of Duncan’s shots came above the break 3s, while 70.6 percent of Simmons’s shots came at the rim.
Remarkably, Simmons is so effective without a jumper because he gets to the rim more frequently than any perimeter player - with and without the ball. His ability to get touches in the paint, whether it be off the dribble or via a cut, is a huge reason why no player has assisted on more made 3-point field goals since entering the league than Ben Simmons. This past season, Simmons recorded 226 assisted treys, which ranked third in the league behind only Luka Doncic and LeBron James, per PBP Stats. Simmons played in four less games than Luka and 10 less games than the King.
Impressively, he ranks in the 95th percentile in points per possession when the defense commits to him and he passes in the PnR, per Synergy Sports. The shooter in these situations shot an eFG of 67.8 (!) percent while he turned it over on just 6.3 percent of possessions featuring a kick-out pass.
Here, Simmons gets a screen from Joel, gets two feet in the paint off a spin out of an in-and-out dribble he loves to use and then throws a perfect pass to Thybulle in his shooting pocket for a wide open moneyball from deep.
When he has a smaller defender in front of him, Simmons will at times take the defender down into the post, where he functions as an evolving scorer and deadly passer. His vision and height enable him to make complex reads and deliver accurate passes from the post that other “point guards” or offensive initiators cannot.
Simmons also exhibits great touch on his passes. After hauling in a rebound he hits Tobias Harris in stride with magnificently placed touchdown the length of the floor - with his off-hand (!) - for easy lay-in on the other end.
His size and elite court vision combined with unparalleled ambidextrous passing make him a threat to pass at all times. If the defense leaves one of his teammates open, you can bet that Simmons will find them for a bucket or open look.
Many have argued that because Simmons cannot shoot, he is easy to defend. I push back heavily on that because not every player who struggles to shoot 1) realizes their limitations (cough, Russell Westbrook and Giannis, cough) and 2) are effective cutters without the ball in their hands. Simmons satisfies both one and two and is a delight to watch off the ball because of how aggressively he cuts and how skilled of a finisher he is around the rim.
To kick things off, after dumping it off to Horford, Simmons moves back above the break, which allows him to better view the court and space the defense out. Daniel Theis decides to double Al Horford in the post, which opens a wide lane through which Simmons sprints and receives a perfect lob pass that he creatively finishes in mid-air for a highlight lay-in.
When you turn on the film, it does not take long to takeaway that Simmons frequently displays impressive body control and touch around the rim when he cuts. If Philly had more shooters and better spacing, I am sure he would have more opportunities to cut and get easy buckets, but I would love to see him cut hard to the basket every time he does not have the ball and is not setting a screen.
In this play, once Richardson comes around the screen, Simmons quickly notices that Embiid lifts off the screen, which brings his primary defender (Kevin Love) out of the paint and forces him to stop the ball. As a result, Simmons’s defender, Cedi Osman is left to move to the nail and then onto Embiid when he receives the ball. This leaves an open lane to the basket which Simmons cuts to as Joel catches the pass, enabling him to then throw an awesome dart inside to Simmons for an easy two.
If D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Ben Simmons ever played together in Wolves uniforms, you can bet that you would see something like this a ton. This would result in Russell putting pressure on the D in the mid-range off the screen, KAT and his shooting gravity further lifting the entire defense, and leave Simmons with plenty of spacing to work with. Phew, I need it.
Smart players often make winning plays in the NBA night in and night out, and Simmons is one of those dudes. On a basic SLOB play, Simmons quickly realizes that Nikola Vucevic is guarding Kyle O’Quinn at the free-throw line - meaning there is no one home to defend the rim - so he inbounds the ball to Harris for a sweet give-and-go for an easy flush.
This next play starts as Simmons thinking about attacking 6-foot-1 Darius Garland off the dribble. He sees that there are three other defenders on the strong side of the floor in the help, respecting his driving ability. So, Simmons backs it out and hands it off to Harris, which forces Tristan Thompson and Jordan Clarkson to cross back to the other side of the lane, which opens the block and painted arena behind Garland. Our guy quickly realizes this and makes Garland think he will post up before slipping behind him for an alley-oop reverse finish.
Perimeter Shooting/Willingness to Shoot
You knew I had to start with this.
Simmons simply does not shoot. Notice that I did not say he cannot shoot.
This stroke looks pretty damn fluid if you ask me. Whether it is a mental thing with Simmons, or a scenario where he only wants to shoot until his shot is at the point where he and the coaching staff feel he can make a consistent impact on the game with his shot, is unknown but Simmons would immediately unlock MVP-level potential if he consistently shot north of 33 or 34 percent from deep on three attempts per game over the course of a season. I am no shot mechanics expert, but I see no reason why he is presently unable to do so.
Whomever coaches Simmons next season must implore him to shoot. Defenses solely go under on pick and rolls with him as the ball-handler, yet he still ranks in the 95th percentile when passing out of those actions. If he is already this good without threatening the defense with any semblance of thinking about shooting, just imagine how dangerous he would be if he could confidently knock down a free-throw line jumper or an open 3-pointer. He could alleviate some of the Sixers’ spacing issues by himself while also making scoring at the rim even more of a breeze than it already is for him.
While the ability to shoot the 3 would likely raise his overall scoring numbers just from perimeter shooting alone, it would also make him an even more efficient player than he already is.
He would be a deadly player attacking closeouts given his explosion off the dribble, long strides, and soft touch at the rim. Adding a jumper is the last step in Simmons’s evolution from a hyper-athletic, raw number one pick into an agent of destruction on the basketball floor. If there is anyone who could get Simmons to buy into shooting, and therefore superstardom, it is Daryl Morey. Here’s to hoping that we see a more confident, ready-to-shoot Ben Simmons next season.
Outside of his shooting, the only other real weakness I see in the young star’s game is how much he turns the ball over and the manner in which he does so. This past season, Simmons had the 13th-most “bad pass” turnovers, per PBP Stats. The number makes sense, because he is a high-usage player making the most passes in an offensive system that requires significant ball movement to create open shots. On the bright side, he had only 21 “lost ball” turnovers, which is far lower than everyone around him on the bad pass list not named Lonzo Ball or Ricky Rubio, meaning that his handle is not the issue in regard to his turnovers.
Simmons often turns the ball over because he gets caught in the air trying to make a pass or gets overzealous forcing passes through tight windows that are not really there.
This fast break is a prime example. Simmons attempts to throw a three-quarter court alley-oop to Tobias Harris, who has OG Anunoby backing up in coverage right in front of him. The pass not only results in a bad turnover on the break, but also leads to a dangerous landing for Harris, who was fortunate to avoid any injury on the play.
A positive here, though, is that Simmons usually kicked this tendency later in closer games, where the weight of every possession gets a little bit heavier and matters more towards influencing the outcome of the game. A coach would say that every possession is the same, but the NBA is an entertainment business after all, and players like Simmons try and make highlight plays where they see fit. However, these possessions can add up and Simmons was no stranger to games with too many turnovers. He had 16 games with at least five turnovers this season.
Here, Tobias has a mismatch in the post on Troy Brown Jr. and instead of just throwing a normal entry pass over the top, Simmons tries to look him off and then throw a no look pass, which Harris cannot come up with, resulting in a bad turnover. Sure, you are up 19 in the second quarter, but getting careless with a lead can let teams back in the game and does not go over well with your coaches in the film room before practice the next day.
His shooting is a different story, but Simmons’s turnover problems are largely correctable and do not impact the Sixers much down the stretch of important games, where he often takes good care of the ball. However, limiting turnovers is a great place to start if he wants to become more effective as a point guard if he elects to continue on without a jumper.
Fit With Minnesota
Minnesota desperately needs impact players on the defensive end of the floor. After Robert Covington departed at the trade deadline in February, the Timberwolves had one reliable defender (shoutout Josh Okogie). There is no way the Wolves can improve upon their 2019-20 season without upgrading on defense in a big way, and Simmons is exactly the type of defensive playmaker Minnesota needs next to Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell if they hope to maximize the benefits of their high octane PnR battery.
Ryan Saunders has made it known that he wants his Wolves squad turn defense into offense and to get out and run whenever possible to create easy buckets in transition like this one.
Russell’s length enables him to steer ball handlers into a strong off-ball help defender like Simmons, but the problem is that he is unable to do that with anyone currently on the Wolves roster. By adding Simmons into the fold, you mitigate the damage Russell’s defensive ineptitude inflicts on the team’s defense and hopefully create more opportunities for Simmons to get a strip like he does in this clip and then get out and run with an athletic big man like Karl-Anthony Towns.
Simmons timing and instincts make him an excellent tagger and digger in the PnR and on the drive, respectively. In this clip, Simmons does an excellent job getting a hand down near the ball on TJ Warren’s drive, which leads to Warren picking up the dribble and kicking back out to Simmons’s man, Brogdon. Simmons is in an excellent recovery position and steals the pass before getting out in transition and dropping a dime to Harris for the deuce.
Even if Minnesota decides to play more zone defense next year, the option of deploying an aggressive defensive pairing of Ben Simmons and Josh Okogie at the point of attack in a 2-3 zone or having them rotate at the top of a 1-2-2 or 3-2 zone would enable Saunders to throw more looks at offenses and junk up games while maintaining solid scoring efficiency on offense. A zone could also create an opportunity for Jaylen Nowell, a former Pac-12 Player of the Year at Washington (whose teams solely play zone) who shot 44.1 percent on seven 3s per game for the Iowa Wolves last season.
Offensively, there is no doubt that Simmons would thrive in Minnesota’s up-tempo, pace and space system. Last season, with Simmons and Embiid on the floor, Philadelphia saw 79.5 percent of their 1780 possessions come in the half court, which ranked in the 70th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. When Embiid was off the court and Simmons was on, that number fell to just 77.8 percent of 2411 possessions, good for 92nd percentile. The team’s halfcourt efficiency was lower without Joel out there, which likely played a role in the team looking for extra possessions in transition.
However, Simmons very clearly played with a mindset that he was going to grab rebounds and sprint up the floor as much as he could while Embiid was on the bench. Minnesota, on the other hand, ran a ton when KAT and Wiggs shared the floor and even more when D-Lo was on the floor. Lineups with a lower percentage of possessions in the halfcourt - i.e. more transition possessions - are much closer to the pace and speed Simmons wants to play at.
In the halfcourt, a Simmons/Towns PnR with Russell spotting up on the wing would be a terrifying sight for opposing defenses. If the defenders go under the screen, Towns can pop out to the 3-point line for a wide-open 3. If they switch it, Simmons can back it out for a one-on-one mismatch or throw it into Towns in the post with a smaller defender on his back. If the defender goes over and trails Simmons, he either gets a clean look at the rim (big lifts to KAT) or KAT is open at the top of the key. None of those are to mention that if they successfully stop all of those options, you have an excellent spot-up jump shooter in D’Angelo Russell shot-ready on the perimeter. While some think that Simmons may suck spacing out of the offense and make things more difficult for Karl-Anthony Towns, his offensive gravity would likely infuse even more spacing into the offense and generate more open looks for shooters.
If teams want to try and play zone, you throw Ben Simmons or KAT at the free throw line and use the player there as a fulcrum throw which you can run the offense, since both are excellent passers and can score with ease off the bounce from there. The endless offensive possibilities are tantalizing.
In terms of specific types of plays the Wolves could run, I love the idea of inverted ball screens with Russell screening for Simmons. The Lakers did a ton of this in the 2020 playoffs to get LeBron going toward the basket and a shooter lifting up to the perimeter with two other shooters in opposite corners. Minnesota could do much of the same with this style of action.
Here, Simmons initiates the set by passing to Horford as Korkmaz, a shooter, is coming to set an inverted ball screen. Harris has lifted from the weak-side corner which gives the defense an option: give Simmons a wide open paint to get a pass into or give James Ennis a wide open 3 in the strong-side corner. Terence Davis stays home on Ennis, giving Simmons an easy alley-oop.
This type of set would utilize KAT’s passing, D-Lo’s shooting gravity, and Simmons’s athleticism all at once, putting pressure on the defense in three different ways all at once. The challenge for Minnesota would be surrounding the dynamic trio with shooters that could play in the corners and make these plays even deadlier. Jaylen Nowell and Kelan Martin could be intriguing options to throw out there if Josh Okogie’s shot has not improved or if Jake Layman struggles from 3 next season.
The key with Simmons is to maximize the spacing on the floor while he is out there; the more spacing he has, the more effectively you can weaponize his athleticism both off the dribble and off-ball. Doing so is easier said than done, but if Minnesota somehow traded for Simmons while keeping Malik Beasley, the Wolves could play at a blazing speed, dominate transition, and run actions that are impossible for opposing defenses to guard without giving someone a wide open look. A defense that features a defensive game wrecker in Ben Simmons and an on-ball maestro with a take-your-lunch-money mentality in Josh Okogie would give the Timberwolves a fighting chance in the playoffs against teams with two elite wings, or an elite ball handler and an elite big. With Simmons in the fold, Minnesota could legitimately have the best offense in the entire NBA while also upgrading its defense in a major way.
Rounding out a roster with three players consuming roughly 75 percent of the salary cap is extremely tough, but given that Minnesota has a front office with deep ties to the D/G-League and overseas scouting, I have faith that Rosas and company could put together a roster that gets into the playoffs and is competitive in year 1. Heading into next year, Towns, Russell, and Simmons have four, three, and five years left on their respective contracts, so the front office would have a little bit of time to figure things out and fill in around the edges.
Ben Simmons would be a transcendent addition that would not only give the Wolves a much-needed lift defensively, but immediately make them a lock for the playoffs in the Western Conference, which is something that Wolves fans have not been able to claim since Kevin Garnett left for Boston. Simmons is quite possibly the best possible addition to this Wolves team, considering his playoff experience, relationship with the current cornerstones, defensive aptitude, and the fact that he thrives with room to operate in a spaced out floor offense.
Philadelphia’s season ended in shambles. Simmons got hurt, Embiid was still out of shape in the playoffs, and the team struggled to play coherently on the offensive end of the floor before getting swept out of the bubble by the Boston Celtics. Brett Brown, Head Coach of “The Process” Sixers, was an easy fall guy to fire and pin the blame on, but the Sixers issues lied not with Brown, but with its astonishingly inept front office. In his first calendar year as the GM of the Sixers, Elton Brand traded Jimmy Butler to Miami, whom he just took to the Finals, declined to re-sign JJ Redick, signed Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris a max contract extensions, and gave Al Horford $109 million over four years. One hundred and nine - 109! - million dollars.
The only true point guards on the roster were Raul Neto and Shake Milton, and Philly’s only reliable shooter was Furkan Korkmaz. Brand’s first year has to be one of the most outrageously bad first years in recent memory, and frankly, I cannot believe his keycard still works, especially considering the hiring of Daryl Morey.
Simply put, the roster needs a huge overhaul before the team can improve its current standing in the Western Conference. With Doc Rivers now at the helm, a coach who is creative with his half-court offense and specifically his deployment of specialist shooters, and Daryl Morey - the most analytically-driven executive in the league - running the show, spacing out the floor in Philly will be priority for the Sixers.
Rivers has always had excellent shooting and playmaking on his rosters, and I expect that to continue in Philadelphia. I fully expect Morey to keep Simmons and Embiid together initially and see what he can come up with to build around the edges of two stars, like he has done repeatedly in Houston, and I would be shocked if Simmons was moved before the season. However, like Rosas, Daryl is a cutthroat executive; I do not expect him to try and fit a square peg in a round hole with the Embiid/Simmons duo if he realizes it is not worth building around in the long-term. I would not rule out Morey opting for a team built around Joel Embiid over Ben Simmons, either. When Morey arrived in Houston, his first team was centered around a dominant big, Yao Ming. Daryl’s MO has always been to acquire as much talent as possible and maximize it around the edges, but Morey has a knack for finding cost-effective pieces who can play an admirable version Simmons’s role defensively while still spacing the floor on offense. Given the way Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, and Nikola Jokic dominated the 2020 playoffs, it is plausible that Morey tries to build around a superstar center and Simmons is a casualty along the way.
There is no doubt that if Minnesota is unable to pull off a deal for Simmons centered around the number one pick, the Rosas regime will continue to stockpile assets in lead-up moves this offseason and during the regular season that position them well to make a move on Simmons if things go south in Philly. The path to acquiring Simmons is much clearer and more realistic than the one to acquire Devin Booker, but the chances Simmons lands in Minnesota before the season are low. Remember that Morey and Rosas are extremely close and have already shown the willingness to help each other out. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few trade option that may be somewhat reasonable.
A couple notes on the complexity of trades in this new COVID NBA schedule:
- Draft picks can be traded 30 days after signing their contract, but cannot be signed-and-traded using their initial rookie deals.
- Any player who is signed-and-traded must have a new contract of either three or four years in length.
- If Minnesota signed Beasley without trading him, he would not be eligible to be traded for at least 3 months. Beasley cannot be traded without first signing, either his qualifying offer or a new deal. It is possible Beasley accepts a qualifying offer with a new deal agreed to in principle with Philadelphia, but that would be playing with fire from Beasley’s perspective.
- Base Year Compensation will be a factor in almost any Malik Beasley sign-and-trade. When a player is signed-and-traded and his new contract is a raise greater than 20 percent, his outgoing cap figure in a trade would be half of what is new annual cap hit is. His incoming cap figure for another team is equal to the contract’s cap hit for that season.
- BYC Ex: if Beasley signed a deal and his new contract cap number is $14 million, his outgoing cap number in a trade would be $7 million. His salary would still count as $14 million incoming for the team who receives him. For more on that, click here.
- Hypothetically, Minnesota could make a selection on behalf of another team (Philly in this case), not sign him, and then trade the rights to the draft selection to Philly along with another player who is signed-and-traded. So, Minnesota could pick Ball for Philly, wait until the free agency window is open and then sign-and-trade Malik Beasley (ex: 3-year, $42 million) and trade the rights to Ball as part of a package for Simmons. There are two catches in this scenario: 1) Since he has not signed a contract, Ball’s salary does not count in the trade. 2) Beasley is likely to get a raise of greater than 20 percent, so his outgoing cap figure in the trade would be cut in half (from $14M to $7M).
Trade #1 - Draft Night Bonanza
- Chris Paul
- PJ Washington
- 2021 first-round pick (unprotected, from CHA)
- 2023 first-round pick (top 3 protected, from MIN)
- Omari Spellman
- Ben Simmons
Oklahoma City receives:
- Al Horford
- James Johnson
- Jarrett Culver
- 2020 #17 overall pick (from MIN, via ATL through BKN)
- 2020 #21 overall pick (from PHI via OKC)
- 2020 #1 overall pick (from MIN)
Here, Minnesota pays a hefty sum for Ben Simmons, while Philly gets a win-now player and a true point guard in Chris Paul. Paul instantly elevates Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid with his playmaking and shooting ability, to go along with a very intriguing prospect in PJ Washington to take Al Horford’s minutes, and two firsts. That Charlotte pick has the potential to be very high in 2021 and would likely have more value to the Sixers, either to use on selecting a player or trading for an established player, than the #3 selection in this year’s draft. Charlotte moves up to #1 and has two of the top three selections, while OKC takes a salary dump in exchange for a solid prospect in Jarrett Culver and two first-round picks in next month’s draft.
Trade #2 - Philly Loads Up on the Wing
- Ben Simmons
- Danillo Gallinari (sign-and-trade w/ 3-year, $54 million contract)
- Malik Beasley (sign-and-trade w/ 3-year, $39 million contract)
- Dennis Schroder
- Rights to LaMelo Ball (Philly picks on behalf of Minnesota)
Oklahoma City receives:
- Al Horford
- Jarrett Culver
- 2020 #17 overall pick (from MIN, via ATL through BKN)
- 2020 #38 overall pick (from PHI, via NYK)
- The more favorable 2022 second-round pick between Philadelphia and Denver
- 2023 first-round pick (unprotected, from MIN)
Philly immediately gets a huge boost to their floor spacing with Beasley and Gallinari, and get a very capable lead guard in Dennis Schroder, whom they can re-sign at a cheaper rate next offseason, while also landing LaMelo Ball, who signs in Philly after the trade goes through. Gallinari was a key cog in Doc Rivers’s offensive machine with the Clippers, prior to his departure in the Paul George, and gives the Sixers a veteran presence who also doubles as excellent shooter and offensive weapon. The loophole to jump through here is that Beasley’s outgoing cap figure in this deal is $6.5 million, per the aforementioned Base Year Compensation provision. However, Minnesota sends out a total of $28.4 million, which is beyond the $24.4 million in outgoing salary needed to take back Simmons and his $30.5 million contract. OKC gets Jarrett Culver, two ffirsts, and two good seconds, which gets broken down something like this: Culver for Schroder, one first and a second for the price of offloading Horford, and another first and second for Gallinari. The 2022 second-round pick could be part of the potential “double draft” - the first to include high school prospects since 2005. If it is, that pick would likely have much more value than a 2021 second. OKC also keeps Chris Paul here, which would allow them to further cash in if they moved him separately.
Trade #3 - Let’s Get Nuclear
- Bradley Beal
- Jake Layman
- Jerome Robinson
- Aaron Gordon
- Jarrett Culver
- 2020 #1 overall pick (from MIN)
- 2023 first-round pick (unprotected, from MIN)
- Ben Simmons
- James Johnson
- Jacob Evans III
- 2020 #17 overall pick (from MIN, via ATL through BKN)
- 2020 #34 overall pick (from WAS, via CHI)
Philadelphia gets the elite scoring and ball-handling guard they need in Bradley Beal, while fortifying the back end of their rotation with a 3-and-D player in Jake Layman and a young floor spacer in Jerome Robinson, who showed promise in Washington after he was dealt at the deadline. After an injury-laden 2019-20 campaign, the Wizards fortify their frontcourt with the addition of Aaron Gordon, a solid two-way player on a somewhat reasonable contract, to go along with Jarrett Culver, the #1 pick, and a 2023 unprotected first from Minnesota. Washington was the second-worst defense in the NBA last season, so grabbing two young, versatile defenders with high potential in addition to the number one pick makes a lot of sense. The Wolves get their man in Ben Simmons, and the Magic get picks they can package to move up in the 2020 draft and lean into a tanking (ahem, player development) season, in which they will be without Jonathan Isaac, and position themselves for a very high pick in what is shaping up to be an outstanding 2021 draft.
As it currently stands, a Ben Simmons trade, especially before next season begins, is neither imminent nor likely, but it is absolutely a situation I would monitor moving forward as a Wolves fan. The Simmons and Embiid pairing is likely on thin ice and I do not trust Morey, who craves floor spacing and efficiency, to create a long-term play with two guys who make life more difficult for each other offensively. Expect him to ride it out in year one as he reshapes the edges of the roster and make the most of his star duo before opening up to the idea of a blockbuster deal. Whether a Simmons deal ends up happening or not, it is a possibility worth exploring and a thrill ride hypothetical that every Wolves fan should be rooting for.