Let’s say the Sacramento Kings trade for Ben Simmons. What could his role look like within the starting five?
So after all this, the Kings head into the season with some semblance of a starting rotation around Fox, Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Simmons, and Richaun Holmes. Immediately, you can sense the upgrade that group gets defensively by adding Simmons. He’s an excellent point-of-attack defender, his huge wingspan allows him to muck up entry passes into the post and kick-outs to the corner, he can crash-and-bang with back-to-the-basket bigs, and he’s recorded excellent steal rates in his career.
Perhaps most importantly, he gives the Kings a number one option on defense to assign to number one options on opposing offenses, something the Kings have sorely lacked. For reference, Kings players defensively last year according to BBall Index’s D-LEBRON were, well, not great. With a minimum threshold of 500 minutes played, just three Kings players graded out above average (the three being Hassan Whiteside at 1.01, Holmes at 0.89, and Delon Wright at 0.85) and two of them are gone! Simmons recorded a 1.94 in that category, among the highest for players at his position.
(Side note: Click here if you want a detailed explanation of how LEBRON as a statistic works, but to sum it up, it’s a weight of a player’s impact using box score statistics combined with the weightings of PIPM, a box-score statistic created by Jacob Goldstein that now belongs to the Washington Wizards, and RAPM, a statistic that feels out a player’s true value by isolating their impact from their teammates. The data is then adjusted for luck and variance so that statistical anomalies do not factor into the final product. There are LEBRON calculations for both offensive and defense, as well as providing an approximate value of how many wins those numbers are worth. Great one-number statistic. Enough of the detour, back to the article.)
Numbers are numbers, but If you want a visual sense of what Simmons could bring to the Kings defensively, look no further than this clip reel posted by the NBA of Simmons’ defensive highlights this season (up until mid-February):
Highlight clips are set to make anyone look good, but this clip shows off a little of everything Simmons has in his toolbox on the defensive end. In the first clip, he flashes his pick-pocket abilities and swipes Jeff Teague for a quick bucket. He’s learned to perfect his timing when going in for jabs or lunging in to intercept an ill-advised pass. A couple of clips later and he’s hustling to the other end of the floor to block an Anfernee Simons layup ala LeBron. His motor runs hot, and when it does you’re bound to have difficulty making the simplest of passes as his length disrupts any action.
My favorite clip of his starts at 3:51 in a game against Cleveland, when he comes into the play from the weak-side as a help defender to block the passing lane Darius Garland has to Collin Sexton. He recognizes that there’s no need to pull off completely and contest the shot since teammate Tobias Harris is there – albeit flailing around – and he guesses right to cleanly pluck the ball out of the air. In other words, he has game-changing defensive potential.