The Minnesota Timberwolves desperately need talent. Players who can be difference makers. And Ben Simmons is without doubt one of such players. A huge talent whose flaws in the game are equally enormous. And that´s why a deep thought into his fit on the Timberwolves is very much needed.
Ben Simmons is a difference maker in the area of the game the Timberwolves have been struggling the most for years: Defense (or the lack of it). And he is also a difference maker in an aspect of the game Gersson Rosas has been stressing for years: Offense creation. Simmons is superb in both aspects. He is an excellent on-ball defender, and he can switch and defend multiple positions; from point-guard to center. Meaning, he can defend anybody out there on a basketball court. A feat very few players in the NBA have.
The Australian player is 6'11 feet tall and has a 7' feet wingspan. Along with great lateral quickness. His defensive performance during games would not be possible without these body measures, and it is also thanks to them that he is very difficult to defend. Usually, offense creators, what historically have been regarded as point-guards, have been players not taller than 6'5 or 6'6 feet. Few point-guards were taller than that. Magic Johnson, for instance, was 6'9 feet tall. And he was a pain to defend for the opposite team, because despite what girls might tell you, size matters. And it was not easy for the likes of Isiah Thomas, 6'1 feet tall; to disrupt passes, hold their position when posted, or steal the ball when facing him. However, height has a big downside. When tall players put the ball on the floor, since the bounce is higher, it is not that difficult for the defender to steal the ball. This is not a problem for Simmons though, and all these skills and characteristics make him a very special and unique player. But as being said before, he is not a player without flaws, and they are huge and concerning.
The first thing to catch the eye when Simmons plays basketball, is his reluctance to shoot threes. In a basketball era in which three pointers are more important than ever, this flaw is most concerning. But there´s another aspect of his game that has been proven in the last playoffs can even make him leave the court. His inability to make freethrows. In four seasons, he not only haven´t been able to improve this aspect of his game, but for what we have seen in his last games of the season, he might have even regressed (34.3%). Which is not only worrisome in itself, it also arises concern in regard to his working ethic or philosophy.
Despite being right handed, he shoots with his left hand. Something apparently his father told him to do while he was playing in the NCAA, before arriving to the NBA. What´s baffling, though, is the reason why this haven´t been fixed during the 5 seasons he has been in the Philadelphia 76ers. Is it a stubbornness problem? Is it a coaching problem? Who knows? What we do know, is that if he ends up been a Timberwolf, he will have to change and work extremely hard on this area of his game. As for the reason why his father, apparently, told him to change his shooting hand, I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that left handed shooters are more difficult to defend. The problem is that changing his shooting habits in such a dramatic way; require a huge amount of time, training and talent. Ben Simmons is not a unique case of a right handed player who chooses to play with his left hand. Rafael Nadal, one of the best tennis players of all time, is the most famous case. Although unlike Ben Simmons, he trained to play with his left hand since he was a kid and that never changed. He never needed to relearn to hit the ball. He never needed to relearn to play tennis.
In addition to that, it seems that he had his good share of mental struggles during the last playoffs games. To what extend will those struggles affect him? Will those problems fuel his desire to improve? Or will they leave a deep scar on him? Let´s hope for the best, for his sake and for the sake of having a more interesting NBA competition.
For better and worse, Ben Simmons would impact the Timberwolves as a team and his new teammates´ roles dramatically. Due to his inability to shoot from the three point line and his superb skills to create advantageous situations for his teammates on the offensive end of the floor, Simmons is the kind of player who needs the ball in his hands in a constant basis as to get the best out of him. Which means, other players would have to play off the ball in a regular basis. How would that affect Anthony Edwards and D´Angelo Russell´s performance? And in the case of Anthony Edwards, how would that affect his growth and development as a player?
In his rookie season, Anthony Edwards has proven to be the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Meaning, he is the most important and valuable player in the team. And so, the fit between Ben Simmons and him should probably be the most decisive point when balancing the pros and cons of the hypothetical trade.
We witnessed an incredible development and growth in the rookie player throughout the season. His dramatic improvement in his decision making and his ability to read the defense of the opposing teams, were the foundations upon which other aspects of his game flourished. His ball handling was alright, but he was stripped of the ball frequently, because he oftentimes tried to do the wrong play at the wrong time. His 1 on 1 was good, but too many times he chose to face his defender instead of passing the ball to his teammates and using them to help him break the opposing team´s defense. As he played games, he learned to read the momentum of the game, he learned to read the defense better, and thus, his game started to shine brightly. He started to punish the defense of the opponents by driving and kicking or playing pick and roll. Making him a dangerous threat and forcing defenses to focus on him and therefore, creating more space for his teammates to play. All of this means that he is very productive when he initiates the offense. And since he is so good and it is very likely he will improve much further, for him to share minutes with a player who desperately needs to have the ball in his hands to be productive, raise concerns regarding their fit on the court but more importantly, raise concerns about whether Simmons would negatively affect the development of such a wonderful prospect as Anthony Edwards.
But there would be joy as well. When playing on the ball, Simmons would find Ant in favorable circumstances, allowing him to destroy opponent´s defense by running to the basket and getting free throws as well as running in fastbreaks. The speed and strength of Edwards would make him unstoppable and it would be a sight to behold. The question would be though: Does Edwards need Simmons for this? To what extend would Simmons improve other players in this regard? Would his flaws outweight his amazing skills?
D´Angelo Russell is a player with the ability to create his own shot due to his good ball handling and his amazing and fast-shooting form that allows him to shoot with the defender very close in front of him. He is also good when it comes to initiating the offense to get scoring chances for himself and others in the pick and roll and pick and pop, specially with players like Towns who can shoot from wherever in the offensive side of the court. When it comes to play off the ball on the other hand, Russell is also a very good catch and shoot player who can come out of screens, and would benefit from Simmons´ passing skills. In that sense, the fit would be very good. However, I don´t think is out of the realm of possibility for the offense of the team to be hampered when is Russell and not Simmons the general on the court.
The inability of Simmons to shoot threes would allow the player who is given the responsability to defend him to guard the paint, preventing Simmons from scoring at the rim, and would also help in the defense of other players so that they are prevented from scoring as well. In a pick and roll situation in which Russell handles the ball and Simmons is the screener, neither the defender who covers Russell nor the defender who covers Simmons would care about the Australian getting the ball in the high post. And while one of them would cover the path to the rim, the other one would try to navigate the screen to be over Russell as tightly as possible. Thus, making D-Lo´s job more difficult. If Simmons could shoot, the defenders would have more things to worry about, and would have a tougher time trying to cover all the offensive possibilities both Timberwolves players would have, since both of them could choose to shoot, pass the ball to the less defended corner and drive to the rim. In a situation in which Simmons is not the one who screens nor the ball handler, he would be stretching the floor from one of the corners. And again, his lack of shooting would make him useless as a shooter, and would allow his defender to wait in the paint, so that Simmons could not find space to cut to the basket and receive the pass to score under the rim. And it would make it much more difficult for his teammates to drive or cut to the basket as well, since that extra defender in the paint, would be a big obstacle.
Ben Simmons´ lack of 3 point shooting would inevitably affect the spacing. On the other hand, if there is a team Ben Simmons could shine in, that team is the Timberwolves. Usually, a team´s ability to spread the floor is limited by the player who plays the center position, because it is usually the one to be the worse shooter; one of the reasons why the smallball style was born. Smallball is the way to play the game with one extra wing or guard, without the player who usually hinders the spacing and pace. But the Timberwolves has in Towns not only the center who better shoots the ball in the NBA, but one of the best shooter in the entire league. In this particular case, the player to limit the spacing ability of the team would be Simmons himself.
Would Ben Simmons increase the chances of the Timberwolves reaching the playoffs? I, personally, have no doubts Simmons would improve the team´s performance. His skills in the defensive end of the floor alone, would dramatically increase Timberwolves´ chances of winning games. And in a conference as tough as the western one, any help should be welcomed. But Gersson Rosas (the Timberwolves´ president of basketball operations) has said several times, that he not only wants the Timberwolves to reach the playoffs, but to be a very competitive team, even a contender. That´s what he is aiming for. So the question is: Is Ben Simmons good enough to be an important part of this ambitious project? His recent playoffs´ performance with the Philadelphia 76ers might suggest that he can´t be a valuable player when the pressure and level of exigency is highest. That´s why the 76ers are willing to part ways and trade him to another team. But the Timberwolves is a different team with a different roster composition which needs to learn to walk before learning to run. And so, it might be advisable to worry about reaching the playoffs first, before trying to figure out how to tackle higher objectives. Besides, there would always be time for the Wolves to trade Ben Simmons to another team in the future, if Ben Simmons performance or fit in the Timberwolves doesn´t met expectations.
The second big point to take into account is what the trade might cost the Timberwolves. Daryl Morey, the president of basketball operations of the Philadelphia 76ers, publicly asked, a few weeks ago, for a ransom that amounts to China´s 2019 year´s GDP. It is only normal in a negotiation, to start by asking for the moon. So the first question would be: What would the Timberwolves need to give up? Or what would (or should) be willing to give up? First thing first, the Timberwolves would need to trade players whose salaries match Ben Simmons´ salary. The Australian player earns a max salary contract. In his particular case, 33 million dollars (yes, that´s what he will earn next season alone). So, for the Timberwolves to match such big contract, there are two options they would have to choose from: Trade D´Angelo Russell, whose salary is 30 million dollars (perhaps along with another player), or make a pack of players whose combined salaries amount, more or less, Ben Simmons´.
Would the 76ers be interested in D-Lo? Despite having reports according which Morey is not interested in Russell, the truth is that if they get rid of Simmons, they will need a starting point guard. And, in my opinion, D-lo would fit nicely in that team thanks to the combination of playmaking and shooting he can provide. And his lack of defensive performance would be minimized thanks to the 76ers having a plethora of good defensive players. Of course, D´Angelo Russell would be traded along with 1 to 3 (I guess?) first round picks because Simmons is regarded as the better player of the two.
If Gersson Rosas wants to keep the big3 (Towns, Anthony Edwards and D´Angelo Russell), or if it is true that Daryl Morey is not interested in Russell at all, the Timberwolves would have to give a combination of several secondary (and tertiary) players to match Simmons´ salary. And this is when things get really complicated. Because although Malik Beasley is a good player, he is in jail right now, for pointing a shotgun at a family (or something like that). And despite the fact he will be released before the start of the next season, it is something the president of basketball operations of other teams will be hesitant about. The rest of the available players with non-minimum contracts; Okogie, Culver, Layman and Hernangómez; didn´t perform well this last season and their value in a trade is zero or even negative. Meaning, if they are traded, the 76ers would ask extra compensation. That, and the fact that no team would be willing to get 5 players in a trade. A 3 or 4 (or 5) teams trade would be necessary, and that is difficult (but not impossible) to accomplish. There are two players, though, whose value is positive or high and whose salaries are very low (to NBA standards). Making them valuable, and who would, no doubt, help the trade come to fruition.
Naz Reid will start his third season in the NBA, and so far, his development as a player has been pretty good. The 21 years old center, has improved his quickness and agility, allowing him to move faster on the court. Which on the one hand means that he has improved in the offense side of the court by being able to fight better in the paint and drive faster and better to the rim, and on the other hand, means that he is able to defend opponents better thanks to an increase in his lateral quickness and strenght when it comes to protect the paint. He still has a long way to go, though, but his development since he arrived to the NBA, is a sign of further improvement in the next years. Which means, he might be a good starting center in the near future.
Jaden McDaniels is the other player. And his rookie season suggests he might already be the starting small-forward the Minnesota Timberwolves was looking for. He is that good. He is quick, in his rookie season, he didn´t lack the strenght to play against small-forwards, and he has that kind of bulldog mentality you want players to have in your team. He is also a serviceable shooter from the three point line. And with those two skills the Timberwolves have what they crave for. Defense and three point shooting. What´s more, after showing glimpses of shot creation and passing, he has given signs of real chances that he might become a difference maker kind of player in the future.
So, since these two young players have a bright future before them, should the Timberwolves be open to add them to the pack of players that, hypothetically, would be part of the trade? Or, far from it, should the Timberwolves have with these two players the same stand as with Anthony Edwards? Which is: No way in the world they are traded! Well, Naz Reid is a good bench player who plays the same position the veteran star of the team does: Center. Which means, that if none of them can play power-forward, or if they can´t play together due to the team struggling defensively, it might be a good idea to part ways with Reid, adding value to the trade.
On the other hand, since McDaniels can be a great small-forward in the future. Since he is already good and useful. Since nobody knows how good he can become as a basketball player. Since he gives to the team everything the team needs (defense, shooting, hopefully shoot creation and passing, etc). Since he is such a great fit in a position of need. In my opinion, it would not be wise to trade him. It would be like creating a hole in the small-forward position to fill other needs with a player who is more than fifteen times more expensive salary wise. And having to give up multiple first round picks in addition to the salary issue. Obviously, McDaniels is not as valuable as a player as Simmons is.But one has to look to the future and reflect about whether Simmons is worth such a high price irrespective of the perceived value of each player in the present.
If I were the Timberwolves president of basketball operations, I would offer extra first round picks so that McDaniels is left out of the negotiations. Heck! I even would rather give up 2 or 3 extra first round picks than McDaniels, despite him having the perceived value of a first round pick in the 10-15 range. At least. according to some NBA team´s frontoffice members around the league. Here is the thing: When a player is drafted, what the drafter hopes, is to get a player as good as McDaniels shew he is and probably will be. And as we all know, the chances of missing the shot, even in a number 6 pick, are not few. Here goes and advice wrapped in an analogy: The day you win the lottery, don´t exchange the ticket for more lottery tickets. Keep it, get the money, and party hard; very hard. I´m sure that´s what Rosas did during this last season while witnessing how McDaniels started to shine and show the kind of player he can be.
It is also convenient to have cheap young players in rookie contracts from a roster salary-cap standpoint. Jaden has three years left in his contract. A cheap contract of 2 million dollars next season, 2,1 million dollars the year after and 3,9 million dollars in the third year. When a team aims to compete in the top, it needs to gather as many quality players as possible. And for that to happen, some of those players have to have cheap contracts due to the massive chunk of the roster´s budget superstars hoard. If the Timberwolves end up having 3 superstars; that means that Towns, D-Lo and Simmons´ contracts will amount to 94.6 million dollars. 97 million dollars if the 15% trade kicker in Ben Simmons´ contract is triggered (if I´m not mistaken, since as you know, the CBA rules are tricky). Adding Ant´s salary, would leave a 107.2 budget in only 4 players. With the NBA luxury tax threshold being 136.6 million dollars in 2021-22, the Timberwolves would be bound to fill the remaining eleven spots of the roster with players worth 29.3 million dollars in salaries. Unless they are willing to pay luxury tax penalties, which would not be convenient since the Timberwolves are yet to prove they can be a solid playoffs team. And in addition to that, they paid luxury tax two seasons ago, and the repeater tax penalties can be very punishing. Hence why having useful and young players in cheap contracts like McDaniels´ (2 millions) and Naz Reid´s (1.8 millions) is so valuable and such a big deal and difference maker.
So, when a quality player is found, and is found for cheap, the team needs to keep it by any means possible. Especially, if that team aims to be a competitive playoffs team. And if said good player not only is bound to a cheap contract, but he is also young and a bright future can be foreseen, to trade him is not only a bad idea, but malpractice. There is no way a team should trade such player, in my opinion, unless a top10 NBA player is the target, an the team becomes a contender. Of course, during trade talks, if the other team´s, front-office members, in this case the Sixers´, also want to ease roster budget issues, they will find the likes of McDaniels really appealing and will try to mandate such player to be included in a hypothetical deal. It would be up to Gersson Rosas to outsmart his opponent in the negotiation, leaving Jaden McDaniels out of the conversations.
Will the Timberwolves be able to trade for Ben Simmons? I find it highly unlikely. But, who knows? Maybe Gersson Rosas might surprise us all and come up with a spectacular magic trick,