After four years of puzzle-piece-shifting, the Philadelphia 76ers have come to the conclusion that Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are not an ideal on-court pairing. This is largely due to Simmons’ inability to shoot the ball, as it’s tougher for Embiid to go to work in the post with defenders helping off of Simmons in order to double him on the block. It was a worthwhile experiment, given that they’re two of the five best defensive players in the league, but they ultimately fell short of their championship asperations year after year. Now that Simmons is on the trade block, it’s worth wondering, where would he fit in best? His offensive limitations make him a tough fit for many of the teams in the league, but there is one that features every necessary ingredient for a successful Simmons-centric team: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Before picturing Simmons in a Wolves jersey, it’s worth exploring what a Minnesota-Philly trade would look like in order to see who Simmons will be playing with.
First off, at least one first-round pick is necessary to incentivize Sixers GM Daryl Morey to pull the trigger on a deal. He’s reportedly hunting bigger fish than D’Angelo Russell or Malik Beasley (he’s waiting on Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal to formally demand a trade), so some added spice is essential for any deal. The Wolves own all of their future picks, and both their near-future ones (they went 23-49 last season) and their far-future ones (Karl-Anthony Towns can walk in free agency after the 2023-24 season) could be viewed as extremely valuable to Morey as another potential trade asset for him to flip down the line.
If the Sixers are high on D’Angelo Russell for whatever reason, then the Wolves could send him, Jaden McDaniels and one or two first-round picks to Philly and be done with it. However, Russell’s value has fallen quite a bit since his All-Star season in Brooklyn in 2019, and he’s still owed over $60 million the next two seasons.
If that spooks Morey, the Wolves could instead offer Malik Beasley, McDaniels, a first-round pick and, ironically, Patrick Beverley, who has already been traded twice this offseason and recently tweeted his approval of a Simmons-to-Minnesota trade (perhaps that tweet was him trying to get out of Minnesota). McDaniels is a promising young wing (who Philly could package down the road along with the draft pick(s)), and Beverley and Beasley are both perfect fits alongside Embiid. They can play off the ball, hit 40% of their threes and defend their positions. Beasley also showed quite a bit of off-the-dribble creation last season, averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game.
Neither of these packages are flashy, but with Simmons’ value at possibly an all-time low, Morey might have to settle.
Regardless of whether Simmons would play alongside Russell or Beasley in the backcourt depending on the trade, his partner-in-crime would of course be Towns. He’s one of the best shooting bigs in the NBA, hitting just under 40% from deep for his career on a high number of attempts. Towns is excellent operating out of the post as well, but a posession that ends in a Towns three off of a Simmons pass is not a relief for the opposing defense the way an Embiid three would be. Towns is also a superior passer to Embiid (KAT averaged a career-high 4.5 assists per game last season) and could find Simmons off of cuts to the basket if he’s willing to move without the ball.
As much as Simmons needs a floor-spacing center like Towns, Towns also needs a defensive ace like Simmons. Minnesota had the third-worst defensive rating in the league last season, and has never approached league-average in any season since they drafted Towns. Simmons finished second in Defensive player of the Year voting last year, and can effectively guard nearly any player in the league given his unique combination of size and mobility. He’s not the rim protector that Draymond Green is, but he’s got essentially every other tool that Green has.
The fit next to young stud Anthony Edwards is admittedly a bit dicier. Edwards finished his rookie season shooting 32.9% from three, though he was at least unafraid to take them (7.2 attempts per game). Edwards will need to learn to play off the ball more alongside Simmons and knock down a higher percentage of his spot-up shots. On the other hand, if Edwards takes a leap in his sophomore season, he could be a solid offensive creator so the burden doesn’t fall on Simmons every possession down as a ball-handler.
In terms of the remaining guard after the trade, Beasley would be a better fit next to Simmons than Russell because he’s not a turnstyle on defense, but either could offer shooting and ball-handling next to him. Russell shot 38.7% from deep last season, and has played alongside other ball-handlers throughout his career.
This proposed trade represents a more pragmatic view of Simmons’ talent. Would acquiring him make the Wolves a contender? Certainly not, contrary to Beverley’s beliefs. Can any team win a title with him as their starting point guard? Probably not (Doc Rivers said he wasn’t sure after their lost to the Hawks, thus sparking this trade saga), so he might as well go to a developing team for whom he can help raise the floor and bring towards competency. There’s no shame in being a key piece of a 45-win squad that can make some noise in the postseason given the right matchup. He’ll be able to put up numbers and rehabilitate his value, and won’t be under constant scrutiny like he was in Philly.
Simmons reportedly prefers to be sent to one of the California teams, but he might need to start being a bit more pragmatic himself. His skillset is simply not conducive for putting a contender over the top, at least until he develops some semblance of a jumpshot. He’s a great match with Minnesota, and being sent there could turn out to be the best thing for his young career.