It seems like some people have a hard time quantifying just how good Ben Simmons has been in his young NBA career.
For comparison sake, let’s look at the two stars of the Eastern Conference Finals. Through the first two seasons of Kawhi Leonard’s career, he put up modest numbers, averaging 9.8 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo, this year’s likely MVP, averaged the identical number of points through his first two seasons.
Leonard was surrounded by Hall of Famers so he was just in a supporting role. In Antetokounmpo’s case, the Bucks just weren’t very good so not much was asked of him.
Simmons has outperformed both players through two years and has at times carried a team that’s won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. Yet as we enter the offseason, there are people who actually want to trade him.
He’s 22. He’s an All-Star. He has NBA All-Defensive team potential. He possesses skills that few have ever had at his size. So the next logical step is … trade him?
Some of this speculation began because of an article our good friend Tom Haberstroh wrote. A Western Conference executive told our NBC Sports NBA Insider that the Sixers “very well might explore” the idea of trading Simmons for LeBron James. Sure, if there’s a chance to land the greatest player maybe ever, you “explore” it. But the idea just doesn’t add up, as Haberstroh ultimately alluded to.
"The safe money is that the Sixers brings the Philadelphia Phive back for redemption," Haberstroh writes. "The opinion here is that Simmons is too good and too young to bail on now."
Plus, Simmons will be eligible to sign his rookie max extension. If the Sixers are able to do so, it’ll keep Simmons in Philadelphia for the next six seasons. So what’s better, continuing to build around Joel Embiid AND Ben Simmons for the next half decade — at least — or go all-in on LeBron, who may not be thrilled to be traded here, for the next two years?
You can look at his numbers from a historical perspective compared to guys like James or Magic Johnson, but that doesn’t even properly enumerate what Simmons has done. This was his second year ever playing point guard. Not in the NBA, but of his entire basketball life. What he can do at 6-foot-10 doesn’t even make sense.
He’s also used that length and freakish athleticism to become an improved and imposing defender. It’s not crazy to think that Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. How many people were saying that about Leonard, who’s won the award, or Antetokounmpo after Year 2?
Simmons has one fatal flaw in his shot. It’s no secret that it’s the one thing likely keeping him from ascending from All-Star to All-NBA. Simmons was his usual reticent self when asked about how he’d work on his shot this offseason during exit interviews last week.
Brett Brown provided the most insight.
If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would probably be a little bit more disingenuous,” Brown said last week. “It’s going to be this discussion for probably a few years where none of you are going to be happy if he’s not cranking out 10 15-footers a game. … And Ben knows this, too. But I stand by that this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately. It will, at some point, for sure. And I feel like this year with Jimmy [Butler] having the ball and us putting him in different floor spots, he’s shown the versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6-foot-10, that I can use him in different areas.
That playoff loss to Toronto stung. Offensively, Simmons gave the Sixers very little outside of a virtuoso performance in Game 6 to keep his team alive. As much as the shot is an issue, that Game 6 win also showed that Simmons still has more to give outside of that. Because of his physical gifts, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Simmons is still a kid trying to figure out NBA playoff basketball.
So do you look for the best offer for Simmons this offseason or bank on the 22-year-old All-Star figuring things out and developing a shot in the next six years?
Playing the long game paid off for the teams that drafted Leonard and Antetokounmpo.
And both of their current teams are where the Sixers want to be.
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