BY DAVID THORPE
76ers writer Keith Pompey makes an amazing point: The 76ers may have finished last season with the East’s best regular-season record. But they were the East’s third-best team, after the Bucks and Nets.
Even before we consider the emerging Hawks and the re-tooled Heat, it’s tough to project the 76ers, as presently constructed, with good odds to win a title in 2021-2022. (Oddsmakers have them seventh or eighth in line for the throne.) For that reason alone, it seems impossible that Daryl Morey, the NBA’s most active trader, would bring back almost the same team. Add to that Pompey’s own reporting that Simmons sat face to face with a delegation of 76ers bigwigs and told them he would not come back to the team and … it feels inevitable that Simmons will be traded somewhere.
The Warriors keep coming up as a possible destination, but does it make sense?
Can a team that already requires long minutes from Draymond Green—essentially a non-shooting non-center—really suit up another one? This is the team that built a dynasty around the importance of 3-point shooting.
I have listened to a lot of experts and insiders, and the gist is: they can’t play Draymond Green and Ben Simmons together, can they?
I dug into the film, thought a lot about strategy and—my answer might surprise you.
A couple of years ago on TrueHoop we started saying that the Warriors offense—with all of its movement, was a Cuisinart. Did you know that Cuisinarts themselves have changed? For almost $700 you can get The Complete Chef which—no joke—also cooks the food. You have to evolve to stay on top. The Cuisinart executives know it and the Warriors executives know it. The model that won 2015 probably won’t win 2022.
The Warriors have Stephen Curry nearing the end of his prime, the pressure is on to consider all options, one of which is adding Ben Simmons. The general commentary has been that it can’t work, because he’s really not a shooter or a scorer, and his presence will make it too easy for defenses to focus on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Evidence from last season, however, suggests this is simply not true. Adding Simmons to the Warriors’ offense would almost be akin to Cuisinart adding a stove to their mixer. They would cook.
For much of last season, the Warriors were mired in injury. In their final 22 games, though, Golden State went 16-6, and they won in an interesting way. They had the league’s tenth-best offense over the period … and the second-best defense.
We will mostly address offense here today, but rest assured that with Ben Simmons the Warriors defense would be spectacular, and a real candidate to be the NBA’s best. Simmons would share playmaking duties with Green, meaning he could devote even more energy to being the world’s best wing stopper. The NBA’s best wing scorers—Zach Lowe brilliantly calls them apex predators—are consistently bothered by very few defenders: Giannis, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi, LeBron, and Simmons. Green is still the champion of helping to guard all five opponents while also shutting down post scorers. Armed with both men, the Warriors would join the Heat (Butler and Bam Adebayo) and the Lakers (LeBron and Anthony Davis) as the teams with apex defenders inside and out.
Ben Simmons is one of the NBA’s most effective transition players. In transition, he would be the Warriors lead guard, and it would be tremendous. He would also be the lead guard in the half-court with Draymond Green resting.
The concerns are about spacing in the half court when Draymond is on the court. And to that I would say: Ben Simmons has never played with a player like Draymond Green, which unlocks some new possibilities.
In half court sets, or when playing as the starting center, Simmons needs to spend lots of time in the dunk spot. The Sixers’ offense was an inside-out power based system, where their top two scorers, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, loved to post defenders up and play off that. The Sixers played on a shrunken court and took 30 3s a game, only four teams took fewer.
The Warriors, of course, have no real post players and took 38 3s per game, fifth overall last year. Adding Klay Thompson to the mix at some point this season won’t hurt their ability to kill teams from the perimeter. In other words, Simmons will have more space in the dunk spot than ever.
Joel Embiid is an incredible offensive force, but he draws people TO THE PAINT, where they can keep Simmons from dunks. Curry and Klay’s gravity pulls defenders away, which, with Green’s supernatural playmaking, weaponizes Simmons like never before.
The Warriors’ coordinated offensive action creates layups and dunks. You can argue “yes but will this work in the postseason?” but I’d remind you that Curry will be playing most of the minutes in those games. Yes, backdoor actions against aggressive defenses work in the playoffs. Green is that kind of playmaker, and, to the point here, so is Simmons. Put Green on the block and Simmons up top and the same thing will happen.
In the play above, Kevon Looney is set up near the 3-point line, ready to set a screen on either Curry, who would use it after Wiggins uses the Curry screen, or perhaps for Wiggins in what’s called “stagger action”—where two screens are set one after another.
Cameron Johnson, a solid Suns defender, “top blocks” Wiggins so that he can’t use that Curry screen. Mikal Bridges, another solid defender, should release to the rim, but he is guarding Stephen Curry. With both Suns defenders staying near Curry, Wiggins and Green complete as easy a dunk in the halfcourt set as he can get.
Where can Simmons play in this action? In every spot except the one taken by Curry. He can be the passer in place of Green. He can be Wiggins and get the dunk. He can certainly be Looney as the second screener. And he can even be standing alone in the right corner. Had his man cheated so far away from him to protect weak side attacks, Simmons would catch a pass and blow to the rim without much resistance.
For years we’ve seen Green play a two-man game with Curry. When Green’s man slacks off him, he finds Curry with his eyes, dribbles to him briskly, hands the ball to his shooter, and screens Curry’s man simultaneously. Green’s man has no time to race back up to contest Curry’s 3.
Here we see Looney doing exactly that when his man, Memphis starting center Jonas Valanciunas, loiters near the paint. It’s easy to imagine dozens of Simmons/Curry dribble hand-offs into Curry 3s.
Outside his family, I’m the biggest Looney fan on earth. But even I can admit, Ben Simmons is a huge upgrade on both ends of the court. He can also make a big difference getting from one end to the other—last season the Warriors finished fifth in fastbreak points, the Sixers were third. The Warriors were 13th in points off turnovers, Philly was fourth. That’s the Simmons effect. He’d help them on the glass too, where they finished 22nd overall in defensive rebound rate.
What about Simmons’ lack of confidence shooting free throws at the end of playoff games?
Simmons was good-to-great in the first three quarters of playoff games, and awful in the final 12 minutes. It’s a fair concern. Given his new role, the way the Warriors play, and the presence of Green and Curry, plus coach Steve Kerr, I would guess there’s a real chance he’d be able to make his career average—60 percent—in the playoffs simply from having his head in a better place. The Warriors would be gambling on taking an All-Star in the regular season to turn him into the same kind of player in the postseason. It’s a dice roll on their culture, on their leadership team, and on Curry himself.
There’s every reason to believe in one of the greatest teammates of all time. Andre Iguodala is not known to be the easiest guy to get along with, but his enthusiasm for Curry knows no bounds. He once argued that his 2015 NBA Finals MVP deserved to go to Curry (it did) and has publicly ranked Curry as the number two point guard of all-time behind Magic Johnson. Curry famously visited both Green and Kevin Durant individually after their infamous on-court argument in KD’s last season there, which helped push them to a near third-straight title. What could Curry do for Simmons’ mindset? His confidence? We don’t know, but this much seems sure—he’d be better next to Curry/Green/Iguodala than he was alongside a star like Embiid who even recently still poked fun at Simmons’ late-game failures.
We shouldn't over think this—the Warriors would have, potentially, the best passing and defensive duo in league history paired with one of the most devastating shooting tandems of all time. And come playoff time, three elite defenders (even a healthy Klay didn't compete his best on defense in the regular season).
In my mind, it’s clear: Simmons could absolutely help the Warriors immensely this year and beyond.
Can the Warriors even get Ben Simmons?
Daryl Morey spent much of the offseason calling around the league, making fairly insane demands for Simmons. From the Warriors, reportedly, he asked for Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, this year’s two lottery picks (which became Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody) as well as two future first-rounders. Everyone knows it’s way too much.
The Warriors reportedly rejected the offer and hung up. Warriors billionaire Joe Lacob talks expansively and dreamily about the potential of the next-generation Warriors, especially Kuminga. It’s believable the Warriors simply want to keep all their young players--and, while they pay steep luxury tax bills—their affordable salaries.
But one takeaway: Wiggins and young talent matter to Morey. I don’t generally think Wiggins is as good as Simmons, but he’s in his prime and helps his team at both ends. Can the Sixers land a far better two-way perimeter player than Wiggins? CJ McCollum or Bradley Beal improves the Sixers more. But it’s not clear what options the 76ers have, and the clock is ticking. Daryl Morey is as good a guy as the league has seen at improving his team, but nothing is easy for him on this issue.
One final argument for the Warriors to consider a Simmons trade: It could speed them along in Lacob’s dream of contending with younger stars. Draymond has always been so essential to the Warriors that he’s basically untradable. However, with 25-year-old Simmons in the fold, able to anchor a defense and move the ball, the Warriors could at least listen to offers for their super-defending big man. Someone would make a huge offer. The Nets excel at everything except defense. The Blazers need to make Damian Lillard happy, and Green is one of his favorite players. Every contending team would have to consider making an offer. Maybe the Warriors would love one of those offers.
In other words, Simmons could possibly be a key part of the Warriors’ real-time rebuild, helping them win in the future. He could certainly be a part of helping them win right now—like a Cuisinart that cooks.
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