Though the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey recently reported that trade discussions pertaining to Ben Simmons between the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers were extremely brief and unproductive due to Philly’s unrealistic asking price, it’s worth considering exactly how Simmons would fit in Golden State should a deal somehow come to pass. The Warriors are, after all, one of the “California teams” that Simmons reportedly prefers. Whether he’s the caliber of player that has the luxury of listing his preferences, especially when considering in the fact that he’s under contract until 2025, is debatable. Regardless, the Warriors do have quite a few desirable assets under their belt that Sixers GM Daryl Morey clearly wants, and Simmons is a young, versatile star that can be effective in the right situation. If the two sides do reach an agreement, how would Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr attempt to maximize Simmons’ talent?
In order to imagine Simmons as a Warrior, we first need to envision who would be dealt in order to get him. Pompey reported that Morey called up Warriors GM Bob Myers and asked for James Wiseman (no. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft), Jonathan Kuminga (no. 7 overall pick in the 2021 draft), Moses Moody (no. 14 overall pick in the 2021 draft) and two future first round picks, along with Andrew Wiggins to make the salaries match. Myers gave a quick ‘no, thank you’ to that offer, but there is the framework of a more reasonable deal somewhere in there. The Athletic’s Anthony Slader wrote recently that Myers doesn’t want to give up Wiseman or Kuminga, so let’s throw in Moody for sure since he wasn’t listed. Despite Myers’ wishes, if a deal does somehow happen, it makes sense that Wiseman would be in the trade simply because he’d clash with Simmons’ skillset the most. Until he develops a consistent three-point shot, he, Simmons and Draymond Green would reck the Warriors’ floor-spacing if all three were starting. Let’s make it one first round pick instead of two, make it a near-future pick (say 2022) and put a lottery protection on it to make it more palatable for Myers. Of course, Wiggins would still have to be in the deal for the money to match. Wiseman, Moody, Wiggins and a protected 2022 first-rounder seems like a reasonable deal for both sides.
After the trade, Simmons would of course be starting alongside Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. This is where the fit issues really become apparent: Simmons and Green are extremely redundant alongside each other. Their skillsets overlap in numerous ways, for better and for worse. They both work best as transition ball-handlers, grabbing defensive rebounds, going coast-to-coast and finding spot-up shooters before opposing defenses are set. Neither can shoot (Green at least attempts threes), and as a result one of them will be a detriment to the offense while the other has the ball. When Curry is handling the ball, defenses are going to sag off of both of Simmons and Green and send two, maybe three guys at him.
Kerr is going to have to get creative with the fifth starter in order to remedy this to some degree. He can’t go with a traditional big (the only one left on the roster would be Kevon Looney) and muddy the spacing even more. If they do make this trade, the Warriors will be in effect committing to a small-ball, all-switching system to maximize Simmons’ ability to guard multiple positions and minimize his inability to shoot. Kerr would need to start another player that can guard both guards and bigger wings, but also attempt (and knock down) a high number of threes to keep opposing defenses somewhat honest. The answer, if he’s healthy, is newly-acquired Otto Porter Jr. He’s a sizable 6’8 wing who shoots 40.2% from deep for his career. He’s been marred with injuries, playing just 42 games the past two seasons combined, but he’ll supposedly be coming into training camp healthy. If this doesn’t turn out to be the case, Juan Tuscano-Anderson, Jordan Poole and Mychal Mulder also deserve consideration as the final starter.
This construction of the Warriors, who finished fifth in defensive rating last season, would be an absolute nightmare for any opposing offense. If Thompson can return to form after missing two full seasons, the Warriors will have four lengthy wings that can guard multiple positions, spear-headed by the second and third-place finishers for Defensive Player of the Year last season in Simmons and Green. Green would effectively become a full-time center, as he’d be the de facto rim protector (something he’s been doing for years as a part of various ‘death’ lineups). They’d switch everything, rarely miss rotations and constantly be disrupting passing lanes (Curry, Green and Simmons have all led the league in steals at various points in their careers). Simmons could also play backup center on second units alongside other solid perimeter defenders like Toscano-Anderson and Andre Iguodala. On defense, Simmons embodies much of what the Warriors have been about the last seven seasons. The problem lies in the offense.
Simmons’ will no-doubt be effective with the ball in his hands. He’s one of the best in the league at finding spot-up shooters for corner-threes (Curry and Thompson would be getting all they can eat), and can be a menace in transition. The Warriors would force a ton of turnovers, allowing Simmons to get out and run. The problem lies in the halfcourt. Curry and Thompson would help spread the floor, but the Green/Simmons pairing is just too much of a spacing-clogger. Golden State finished no. 2o in offensive rating last season despite having arguably the best offensive player in basketball in Curry, and Simmons won’t do much to help that when he’s off the ball. He could play in the dunker’s spot the way Wiseman did last season when he was healthy, but that strategy often proved ineffective for Philly.
Ultimately, whichever team ends up trading for Simmons will have to confront the non-shooter problem. It’s just too glaring of an issue, particularly in today’s NBA. If there were any team equipped to minimize it, it would be one with two of the best shooters in NBA history in their backcourt.
Even so, it just doesn’t seem worth it for Golden State to blow a large chunk of their trade-asset treasure chest on a shakey fit when a more viable option could become available at a moment’s notice. If Golden State maintained that original package that Morey requested and Wizards superstar Bradley Beal were to make an official trade request, the Warriors could probably beat any other offer out there. They’re best off keeping their bullets in the chamber. With apologies to Simmons, his California aspirations might be a pipe dream.