From all the talk around the NBA water cooler last week, you’d assume Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons was already a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. it’s no surprise, he’s the latest out-of-favor All-Star who is likely on the market.
But there are some Portland fans who are squarely against the Australian point guard playing in Blazers colors, particularly if it means giving up CJ McCollum. To these people I say, I know where you’re coming from, I really do. But I’m not sure you’re seeing the whole picture, and it’s not because I come from the same island continent as Simmons.
Yes, he is flawed, to the point that his coach and star teammate have all but nudged him out of the Philadelphia 76ers locker room.
“You can’t have a guy on the court who’s afraid to shoot the basketball.”— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 21, 2021
Chuck talks Ben Simmons and the Sixers struggles in Game 7. pic.twitter.com/45vwFJRAxp
His confidence and shot are busted. Simmons can’t be trusted to play in tight games for fear of free throws and he won’t pull the trigger on dunks even after the opponent has rolled out the red carpet.
Shooting is an essential skill in the modern NBA, nobody is denying that. But there’s an argument to suggest that the confidence and shot can be fixed. No one is saying he’ll ever be a knock down three-point shooter, but the 24-year-old has plenty of time to address this. Maybe it’s as simple as shooting with his right hand as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has mentioned on several occasions.
Ben Simmons shoots with the wrong hand.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) June 17, 2021
On the other hand — no pun intended — Simmons has a few skills that set him apart from most of the NBA. And this is the clincher, these skills cannot be taught or learned, they are innate, natural, instinctive.
The 6’10 240lbs point guard is one of the best passers in the league, his ability to distribute the ball with either hand, running at top speed is second to none. The court vision and athleticism is elite, no one can dispute that.
His ability to get to the rim is first class and once he’s there he invariably finishes, you just hope he doesn’t get fouled. This season he was 17th in field goal percentage, shooting 55.7 percent.
Finally, and most importantly, he ran second to Rudy Gobert for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also a twice All Defensive First Team entrant, arguably the best perimeter defender the league has to offer. He’s able to shut down some of the league’s best guards, just look at the way he stifled Damian Lillard earlier this season.
Simmons is also a stout defender against bigger bodies thanks to his size, speed and length, allowing him to guard almost anyone in the league, one of the NBA universe’s rarest breeds.
The addition of Simmons would provide the balance the Blazers roster has needed since CJ McCollum entered the starting unit in 2015. I guarantee the Blazers do not finish 29th in defense next season with Simmons — in fact, he might even be able to lift Portland into the top half of the league in this category.
We know the reasons why the Lillard-McCollum backcourt is limited. I’m not going to re-hash this, all I’ll say is that the Blazers are not progressing anywhere with these two as the highest paid players on the team.
Simmons has also never played alongside a dominant point guard like Damian Lillard, taking the pressure off him in half court offenses. A Lillard-Simmons pick and roll would give defenders nightmares year round.
Let’s also not forget that all these attributes have earned Simmons three All Star nominations — yes Eastern Conference All Star selections, but All Star selection nonetheless — an All NBA Third team nod and the 2018 Rookie of the Year.
How a trade might work
No one should envy 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey.
Simmons’ playoff performance combined with the post Game 7 press conferences from Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers have severely diminished Simmons’ trade value.
A month ago, 76ers fans were hoping Simmons and smaller pieces would net a player like Damian Lillard. However, ESPN’s Zach Lowe last week suggested the reduced value might have altered that return to McCollum.
However, I’m not sure Simmons’ value has dropped enough for a straight swap, so Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey will have to sweeten the deal somehow.
I’m going to suggest a 2022 first round pick (lottery protected) and Nassir Little who earns $2.3 million next season. I’d stop short of including Anfernee Simons as that might be a little too much.
As far as the future is concerned, 24-year-old Simmons has another four years on his contract, starting at $31.5 million and finishing at $38.6 million. McCollum, 29, has three years left on his deal, earning $30.8 million next season and $35.8 million in 2023-24. So the Blazers will be up for one more year and a little more — yeah, $3 million isn’t a little more for us mere mortals — but they are getting a player, five years younger, just entering his athletic prime.
If the Blazers manage to swing a Simmons trade involving McCollum, Little, and a pick, while re-signing Norman Powell for a not-too-ridiculous sum, they are in an improved position. Trotting out a starting lineup including Lillard, Powell and Simmons while either keeping or moving Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic helps address the team’s serious defensive holes while potentially maintaining the Blazers’ elite offensive status.
Believe it or not, this is also a win for Philadelphia. The 76ers get a player in McCollum they can leave on the floor during tight late-game situations. McCollum running the floor with Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid opens up all kinds of offensive possibilities for Rivers next season. Morey also gets a pick and a young potential-ridden player like Nassir Little.
To those Portland fans who still prefer McCollum over Simmons — you may not have weighed everything up. Yes, Simmons’ shot is broken, yes, he might be shooting with the wrong hand, but he is by far the best possible return the Blazers are getting for CJ McCollum and it’s not even close. The Lillard/McCollum era is done, over, finito. We need to move on and this is the way out.
This is the move Olshey has been waiting for. Yes, it’s a risk, Simmons’ shot may never evolve, but this is a calculated risk worth taking because of the natural abilities he brings to the table. I’m now calling on Olshey to pick up his phone, dial Daryl Morey’s number and hash out a trade because it is a winner on both sides.