The madness of the off-season seems to be dying down—few notable players are yet to sign, and roster spots are filling up quickly. Nevertheless, trade talks are in perpetuity. The newsworthy name right now is Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons, a three-time all-star who ranked second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2020-21. Without any prior context, a move to get Simmons on the Sacramento Kings may seem like a no-brainer—who doesn’t want a hyper-athletic, 6-foot-11 playmaker with a penchant for defense? There’s more to Simmons than his accolades lead on.
Drafted 1st overall in 2016, Simmons drew comparisons to LeBron James and Magic Johnson as a forward-sized passer with elite athleticism. Despite sitting out his first season due to injury, Simmons returned in 2017-18 and won Rookie of the Year—leading the Sixers to their first playoff berth since 2012. Here, he established himself as a top-notch NBA defender, averaging 1.7 steals and placing 2nd in Defensive Win Shares. Although the 76ers lost in the 2017 playoffs to the Boston Celtics, a bright future was ahead for Simmons and his co-star Joel Embiid.
Since his rookie year, Simmons and the Sixers have enjoyed considerable regular season success, but have never reached the Eastern Conference Finals; coming closest to this feat in 2019, where they lost in heartbreaking fashion to a buzzer-beater by Kawhi Leonard. Throughout this period, Simmons saw negligible improvement, failing to make statistical jumps or develop a formidable jump shot.
Entering the 2020-21 season, the Sixers looked like a different team. Thought-out roster construction, a newly-hired Doc Rivers as head coach, and Daryl Morey in the GM chair. After finishing with the first seed in the Eastern Conference (49-23 record), Philadelphia seemed ready for a deep playoff run.
The Sixers won their first-round series against Washington in 5. Their next opponent was the Atlanta Hawks, who they were heavily favored against. To the surprise of many fans, the Hawks managed to take a 3-2 lead—before the Sixers knotted the series in Game 6 behind big performances from Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey. In Game 7, Kevin Huerter dropped 27 points en route to a 103-96 Atlanta victory. Simmons was noticeably un-assertive, scoring a measly 5 points while infamously passing up an open dunk in crunch time:
A scapegoat of their playoff collapse, Simmons was ridiculed for only hitting 25 of 73 (34.2%) free throw attempts in the two rounds. Since the loss, he has reportedly cut contact with the organization, indicating his interest in being traded. Trade rumors have floated around, most suggesting Simmons will land in Portland or Golden State.
Nonetheless, Ben Simmons is available at the lowest point of value in his career—so should the Sacramento Kings attempt to make a move?
Although Simmons has significant flaws in his game, he could be a seamless fit in Sacramento that brings them into playoff contention.
A package for Simmons would likely involve a deal centering around Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes, with an added first/two firsts. Philadelphia is selling low but is still acquiring a knockdown shooter in Hield, and a solid all-around wing in Barnes.
According to defensive rating, the Kings were the worst in the NBA during the 2020-21 season. Simmons, who can guard five positions at an elite level, could drastically improve their defense—at least a 5-10 spot improvement if healthy. Offensively, he provides a rim-running threat in transition, while play-making and handling the ball when necessary. With building block De’Aaron Fox at point guard, he would play at power forward/center, where shooting is optional rather than a necessity.
Over his career, many criticisms have emerged around Simmons’ work ethic. Still yet to develop a three—or a mid-range shot, for that matter—it is reasonable to be skeptical of his attitude in entering a small market like Sacramento. Simmons has also stipulated his wish to play in a big market, adding further reason not to risk a trade. Furthermore, on a team that just re-signed traditional big man Richaun Holmes to a four-year deal, his fit is questionable.
Whether the Kings ought to pursue Simmons is contentious. His passing and stalwart defense could fix many of the team’s existing problems, but for a team amidst a fifteen-season playoff drought – is giving up key contributors and future assets for an unproven commodity worth it?