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Ben Simmons is Exactly What the Wolves Need on Defense

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As the Ben Simmons rumors heat up, my excitement level rises at the same rate. Every day he isn’t traded makes me more confident the Timberwolves will find a way to trade for him. The 76ers are unlikely to get the star they want, and the Wolves have young assets the Sixers can flip in a future trade for a star. Ben Simmons might actually be a member of the Timberwolves on opening night against the Rockets. The Wolves might put one of the best starting five groups in franchise history on the floor opening night.

If you’re reading all this and instead of getting excited you’re thinking “he can’t shoot, I don’t want him” then think about it this way. He certainly isn’t an elite shooter, but Ben Simmons’ greatest strengths are the Timberwolves’ greatest weaknesses. On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolves would probably allow 100 points per game against my former 9th grade team. It’s hard to overstate how bad the defense is, but Ben Simmons would help finally fix that.

Simmons is blessed with the size of a forward/center with the skills to play any position. Standing at 6’11”, he would be tied with Karl-Anthony Towns as the Wolves tallest player. It’s very likely that Simmons would slot in at the power forward position with the ability to be the lead ball handler at any moment.

I’m not saying Simmons turns the Wolves into an immediate top-five defensive team, but I think he helps them finish around 15th. Here are the Sixers ranks in defensive rating since Simmons arrived.

  • 2017-18: 3rd, 103.9
  • 2018-19: 14th, 109.0
  • 2019-20: 8th, 108.4
  • 2020-21: 2nd, 107.0

Those numbers are inflated quite a bit because of Joel Embiid and other solid defenders in Philadelphia like Tobias Harris, but Simmons pushes them to the top. It’s well known that Ben Simmons is THE GUY on defense for the Sixers.

Danny Green praised the hell out of Simmons in this one minute clip. From saying he’s their primary defender to saying “we thought Ben was able to guard one through five and set the tone for us.” The impact is insane and Green acknowledges that here.

Now, moving over to the Timberwolves’ defensive rating ranks in that same timeframe, it’s ugly.

2017-18: 25th, 110.2

2018-19: 24th, 112.2

2019-20: 20th, 111.6

2020-21: 28th, 114.5

I know defensive rating is largely a team wide statistic, but individual defensive stats are two things. One, unreliable, or two, unavailable. Despite that, I compiled all of the individual defensive leaderboards to show the value Ben has in the box scores.

Here is where Simmons ranks with some of the most common defensive statistics, minimum 50 games played.

  • Steals per game: 6th, 1.6 per game
  • Blocks by a guard: 17th, 0.6 per game
  • Defensive win shares: 6th, 3.3
  • Defensive plus/minus: 7th, 1.9
  • Rebounds per game by a guard: 6th, 7.2
  • Defensive rating: 4th, 106.1

I just created that account to store random clips I want to use for my writing or for my YouTube channel. I immediately misspelled steal with steak. Overall he’s just really good, and I’m not sure the numbers actually do him full justice, due to how versatile his defensive impact is.

Transition defense

If you ask a bunch of Wolves writers what the Wolves biggest weaknesses are, they’re all going to include transition defense. Actually, That’s exactly what I did and they all included it. Hypothesis proven. Anyways, here’s transition defense by the numbers.

The Timberwolves missed a lot of shots last season. Most teams do! But most teams understand that once a shot misses, it’s immediately time for defense. The Timberwolves never seemed to grasp that concept, although Chris Finch noted in his recent Q&A with Britt Robson that will be something they focus on.

After a missed shot last season, the Wolves were playing in transition defense 29.8% of the time. On average, the Wolves allowed 130.9 points off of transition per 100 possessions. That was 28th in the NBA last season, so teams certainly took advantage of those opportunities.

Moving on to the 76ers transition defense, they also found themselves in many transition situations, but they handled them so much better. After a miss, the 76ers played in transition 30.5% of the time, but only allowed 112.5 points per 100 possessions. That was 5th-best in the league and 18 points better than the Wolves.

Ben Simmons is an elite disruptor and is able to slow down the transition offense from the opposing teams with steals, deflections, or just by being in the right spot. We just saw Rubio and Edwards fail to do it, so now let’s take a look at Simmons.

He always seems to know exactly where the ball is going and you can see him moving his feet to the ball before it’s even passed in the third clip there. Simmons is one of the fastest players in the league, and he pairs that with the ability to anticipate passes AND get the steal regularly. That is something Wolves fans have never seen much of.

Point-of-attack defense

Another obvious weakness the Timberwolves consistently have is point of attack defense. The Wolves have guys like Josh Okogie, who can guard the point of attack, but he is such a liability on offense.

Outside of Jaden McDaniels, guys like D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Anthony Edwards regularly find themselves at the point-of-attack on defense. That rarely ended well.

It wasn’t uncommon for players like Ja Morant to blow right by whoever the Wolves had guarding him. Teams can only hide so many defenders at once, so when the Wolves had Beasley, Edwards, Russell, and Towns on the floor together, well, we all know how that went.

Back to Ben Simmons! If he was on this Wolves roster he would obviously be the prime point of attack defender no matter who the player holding the ball is. As Danny Green mentioned in the video at the beginning, Ben Simmons can feasibly guard anyone one through five.

Off-ball defense

What happens when Simmons gets stuck with the guy in the corner, or the guy setting a screen for the lead ball-handler? To no ones surprise, he has no problem at all defending away from the ball. I won’t be going into great detail on pick-and-roll defense, but I want to highlight Simmons in that area. When he is defending the roll-man off-ball, Simmons allows only 0.46 points per possession, 4th-best in the league.

If you’re hoping the Wolves might surprise you and be at least average in this category on defense, I’m sorry. Off-ball defense is another huge defensive weakness by the Timberwolves overall. The wings struggle to stay with their man, allowing for open looks or open drives to the rim.

Here’s another clip of Ben Simmons just being a seven foot tall disruptor to anyone who dares dribble within 15 feet of him. I could watch these all day. It’s not always flashy, but he always happens to sneak a hand in and get a piece of the ball. Once a defender touches the ball, chaos ensues, but Simmons is able to control that.

Simmons is a seven-foot tall guard that can play elite defense in any situation. That right there is why the Sixers want four first-round picks. I haven’t even gotten into how Simmons could help the Wolves offense, but that’s for another day. I also haven’t gotten into how he could fix the defensive rebounding, but him being the second tallest player on the team obviously helps that quite a bit.

I’m all in on Ben Simmons because I believe they can trade for him without giving up Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, or D’Angelo Russell. Combine Ben Simmons with those three and you’ve got the skeleton of a top six seed in the west.