Following a disastrous performance in the conference semifinals, Ben Simmons’ trade value has never been lower. Should the Knicks inquire about trading for the All-Star and DPOY finalist?

Sam DiGiovanni: Hey Will, remember the bubble? What a time. One of my absolute favorite moments came off of the court, courtesy of Ben Simmons. The Sixers All-Star was just fishing with his then-teammate, Josh Richardson, and reeled in a pretty decently sized fish. Upon returning fish to the water, he…missed. Simmons dropped the fish onto the narrow strip of the dock he was standing on, which was a little more than a foot wide, instead of the infinitely bigger body of water.

One could simply chalk that up to Simmons not knowing where the water was since he was looking at Richardson. But I won’t. I’m choosing to suggest that that incident was a microcosm of Simmons’ career: clearly talented (enough to catch a fish) but not good enough to finish the job (placing the fish back). In this case, the job is getting Philadelphia close to a championship.

Will Bjarnar: Hey Sam, I do. And I have fond memories of watching far too many clips on social media of NBA players performing everyday activities. Taking walks around Disney World’s vast ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to pass the time. Recording video diaries from inside their rooms. One of them was, of course, the video to which you’ve referred, the candid moment where Ben Simmons likely caused a Joel Embiid-level injury to the caudal fin of this poor fish. It felt like a video version of Us Weekly’s silly “Stars—They’re just like us!” segment. “They wear sunscreen!” “They walk their dog that just received a $400,000 pampering!” “They can catch a fish, but they can’t release it!”

Believe me, Sam (and Ben), when I say I’ve been there. I’m just like a star in plenty of ways, including how I chirp when playing video games. Ben knows about that, too. Remember the time he was playing PUBG with Karl-Anthony Towns? And as Towns began to log off for the evening, Simmons told him that because he was playing the Hawks tomorrow, he had plenty of time to fit in one more game? Again, I’ve been there. It’s not a good look when your trash talk comes back to bite you. For Simmons, it looks especially horrid after his seven most recent performances.

But I think that this is another effective microcosm of Simmons’ career: a misjudgment of potential, of overall ability. He’s absolutely talented, I can’t disagree with you there. I think the pariahism he’s endured since his lackluster output over the course of the Eastern Conference semi-finals is too deeply rooted in recency bias. But then again, how much has he actually grown as a player since… he was drafted?

And with your point in mind, does he bring something to the Knicks that would help them finish the job they couldn’t overcome this year?

Sam: As it pertains to this past season specifically, he definitely does not. The Knicks fell to the Hawks because their offense was miserably bad. Simmons’ one-man band of pitiful scoring output, which was encapsulated by passing up what was maybe the easiest shot one could have imagined for him, was painful to watch. I care too much about my mental well-being to imagine him in Tom Thibodeau’s offense, which heavily comprises of the key ball handlers finding their own shots.

Now, overall, I think the Knicks having Simmons should make them better. On paper, I think Simmons’ fit in the Knicks’ offense is kinda intriguing. New York proved to be a better three-point shooting team than expected. To repeat their success, they’ll have to keep finding ways to feed their shooters (assuming they can keep any number of them around since several are free agents). Simmons’ ability to draw defenders inside and kick out to shooters would open up space for New York’s snipers to fire. The Knicks ranked near the very bottom of the league in field-goal percentage close to the hoop and assists per game. Simmons would help them in both areas.

On the other side of the ball, not much needs to be said. Simmons is an elite defender. Putting him on one of last season’s best defensive units…man, that would be terrific.

However, any theoretical success Simmons would have on the Knicks is predicated on how aggressive he is on offense. He’s one of the biggest and fastest cars in the race but what holds him back is his motor going cold. If he’s not slashing and generating points for himself or teammates, he’s pretty much worthless. And I don’t expect Thibodeau to become an offensive genius this offseason. I don’t think he’s nimble enough to walk the tightrope that leads to an offense in which Simmons is always producing. That’s why, despite his talent, I’m not sure how much better he would make the Knicks.

Will: Isn’t that the operative word with Simmons? “Despite.” There are just so many directions you can take a sentence beginning with that word when you plug something about Ben Simmons in as its subject. I have a few examples.

First: despite being one of the biggest and fastest cars in the race—not a Lightning McQueen, but a Chick Hicks, perhaps?—he can’t make enough of his own offense and is incessant in wasting the opportunities he can create. He recorded a career-low in usage rate last season (23.5%, in the 41st percentile among point guards), but maintained an abhorrent turnover percentage (16.8%, ninth percentile). He averaged a career-low in points, assists, and rebounds per game, and yet his career-highs don’t skyrocket too far above those numbers. He’s in his fourth playing season and his fifth in the league.

We didn’t witness a slump last season. We witnessed further proof that Simmons’ ceiling is significantly shorter than his draft profiles told us it would be, even if it is still higher than other All-Stars of a similar ilk.

Next: despite Simmons’ ability to draw defenders inside and kick out to shooters on wings or open around the key, he’s always going to be an attractive target of the infuriating but very understandable “Hack-A-Player” plan. It would certainly be more interesting to see him operate from the elbow on down, as it would certainly help to space the floor for a team like New York, but the Knicks are in need of a point guard. They’d want to enlist Simmons in that spot, not have him start offensive possessions in the paint.

Even with breakneck speed in his bag, employing the proprietor of Hack-A-Simmons Inc. would only slow down what was already the league’s slowest offense last season. In 2017, Simmons told reporters that he wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be hacked much longer because he’d start to sink his freebies with regularity. I haven’t seen anything that points to that being true… have you?

And finally: despite everything he does bring to the table offensively (slashing, passing, spacing, dunking when he’s not having his talent stolen by The Nerdlucks), Tom Thibodeau’s scheme, or lack thereof, is not one to highlight those abilities. Nor is it one to bring out the skills Simmons so desperately needs yet lacks. It can be stifling, depending on your mental fortuity. There’s an overwhelming wealth of evidence that points towards Simmons lacking exactly that. I don’t know that 1) Thibodeau is the coach to rewire him, nor that 2) New York is the environment in which he’ll be welcomed to go through some significant trial and error.

Sam: I agree with both of those assertions. Clearly, there are on-court complications that would play out if Simmons were a Knick. But I doubt very seriously that either team’s front office would even agree to a deal that would have Simmons bound for the Big Apple.

The plan for the Sixers this offseason is to do whatever they can to maximize Joel Embiid. Wasting more of his time as one of the NBA’s best players is simply not an option. They need to get a player who is ready to be a championship-level second option right now—or as close to one as they can get because Simmons’ trade value is probably at an all-time low.

Julius Randle is the Knick best suited for that role but Leon Rose shouldn’t even think about it. Nor should he think about sending away R.J. Barrett. Both players improved their respective games more in one offseason than Simmons has in nearly half a decade in the league. Recency bias may not be tough enough on Simmons to the point where the Knicks can get him without sending away Randle or Barrett. And even if it is, Philadelphia likely balks at packages without one of New York’s cornerstones.

With no star-level player or potential star-level player in the return, it makes no sense for the championship-hopeful Sixers to deal away Simmons. Youngsters and picks aren’t gonna get it done. It would have to be Randle or Barrett but sending one of them away for a top player that disappoints as continually as Simmons neither makes them better now or going forward. I don’t see a trade that makes sense for both sides. Do you?

Will: In short, no. I don’t see a trade that makes sense for the Knicks because trading away one of two players you’d like to be significant pieces in the franchise’s modern renaissance is counterproductive. And I definitely don’t see Daryl Morey even bothering to return an email from Leon Rose that doesn’t include the keywords “Barrett” or “Randle” because he knows that Simmons has a ton to offer, despite (there’s that word again) his poor overall output last season.

We have to acknowledge that while Simmons’ 2021 playoff turn made him look like someone handed an alligator a watermelon and told it to go play skeeball with it, this is still one of the three finalists for last season’s Defensive Player of the Year award, a three-time All-Star, and a two-time All-Defensive first-team honoree. And yes, he’s a player on an undesirable max contract, but his trade value is reportedly quite high, regardless. This is like if Al Horford and Draymond Green had a love child.

Essentially, he’s not worthless. Certainly not because of what he’s literally worth (as a starter and in U.S. dollars). Morey once pulled James Harden from the Thunder and, under his watch, saw The Beard blossom into one of the league’s five best players on a perennial basis. He knows Simmons can’t be James Harden, but he also knows that Simmons is not Jeremy Lamb and that no Knick will become a James Harden. At least I’d be willing to bet on it.

But do you know what brings me a significant deal of pause and intrigue, logic and finances totally set aside? The real-time ascendance of Randle from one of the league’s worst (and most inefficient) shooters into a matchup problem in the mid-range. I’m not saying Randle is Buddha, but maybe what Simmons needs is a lesson in confidence, in psychological resilience, in whatever the hell turned a sub-30% three-point shooter into a competent deep threat and the league’s Most Improved Player.

Before I delve too deep into these weeds… any interest in joining me in this land without logic? Or am I over-idealizing something that would undoubtedly be wholly imperfect in terms of fit and production based on the fact that they both shoot with the left hand? (Even if one of them is shooting with the wrong one.)

Sam: If you’re suggesting that Simmons is capable of making a leap like 2020–21 Randle did, you’re into the thick of your wildest imagination, my friend. Randle had at least some semblance of a decent jumper leading up to this season and shot comfortably over 70% from the charity stripe in every season of his career. For either of these things to be developments of Simmons’ game, let alone both, would be unforeseen.

However, I certainly agree that Simmons seems to be in need of a confidence boost. Thibodeau just inspired Randle to slide his player archetype away from Zach Randolph and more towards Antoine Walker. I could see Thibs being able to tap into Simmons and instill him with confidence—maybe not enough to greatly refine his game, but enough for him to be the best version of himself.

I’m not going to hold my breath, though. Unless New York and Philadelphia brought a third team into the mix, I don’t see any trade manifesting between them where the Knicks net Simmons. And even if they did without sacrificing Barrett or Randle, Thibs would have his work cut out for him to improve the Knicks’ offense in a major way. At the moment, I think we can expect Simmons to remain a Knicks adversary…one they have yet to defeat.

 

 

 

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