What a Ben Simmons trade would mean for 76ers: A team better built around Joel Embiid; a defensive drop-off


The Philadelphia 76ers dealing away Ben Simmons feels inevitable at this point after Simmons reportedly informed the Sixers that he wants to be traded and that he doesn’t plan to attend training camp in Philadelphia. The Sixers spent the offseason entertaining offers for Simmons following his underwhelming performance against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and while they haven’t yet found a deal that they liked, it just seems like a matter of time. 

It’s tough to tell exactly what a Simmons trade would mean for Philadelphia without knowing who the team would get in return, but it doesn’t hurt to try. With that said, here’s a look at three ways that a Simmons trade would impact the Sixers. 

1. A team better built around Embiid

As two players that both prefer to do their damage on the offensive end in the painted area, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were never an ideal fit together on paper. They were able to make it work over the past four years, and they had some solid success as a duo, twice making it to a seventh game of the conference semifinals. Much of this success stemmed from the fact that both players are dominant defenders, and Embiid’s willingness to act as a floor-spacer (like he does here during Game 7 against Atlanta so that Simmons could occupy the post) also helped. But, if (or when) Simmons is traded, the result will likely be a Sixers team that is better built around Embiid — assuming that the Sixers are looking to net a replacement guard(s) in return. After signing him to a massive extension this offseason, building around Embiid will continue to be the goal for Philadelphia’s front office for the foreseeable future. 

Simmons’ inability to space the floor with a jump shot certainly hasn’t done Embiid any favors, as it often made it easier for opposing defenses to apply additional post pressure on Embiid by sagging off of Simmons. This has consistently been magnified during postseason play. With a point guard that is viewed as a shooting threat — alongside other starters Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris — that doesn’t happen, and in turn, Embiid would have more space to operate on a play-by-play basis.

Embiid would also benefit from having a dynamic pick-and-roll partner. Embiid and Simmons aren’t natural fits in that action, as both are better served as the screener, and the fact that defenders know that Simmons isn’t looking to shoot out of the action if he’s the ballhandler makes it easier to defend. If you give Embiid a pick-and-roll partner capable of either putting the ball on the floor off of a screen or pulling up and knocking down shots, that duo could do a lot of damage, as Embiid can also do both. Saying that Simmons has been holding Embiid back would be taking it too far, but there’s no denying that playing with a floor-spacing guard would help to open things up even more on offense for Embiid.

2. A defensive drop-off

While the possibility exists that Embiid and the Sixers could improve offensively following a Simmons trade, it’s the other end where he would truly be missed. The Sixers had the second-best defense in the entire NBA last season, and Simmons was an enormous part of that, as evidenced by the fact that he came in second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. That was no fluke. Although Jazz center Rudy Gobert won the award, Simmons is arguably the most versatile defender in the NBA thanks to his ability to switch seamlessly and guard all five positions. The Sixers are a vastly different team without Simmons guarding the opposing team’s top perimeter threat, applying pressure and serving as the proverbial head of the snake on defense.

Matisse Thybulle is an All-NBA defender, but his playing time is somewhat tied to his ability to consistently knock down shots, and he’s also not a starter on the team, so it’s not like he can just immediately take over Simmons’ role on that end of the floor. Without Simmons, Danny Green probably becomes Philadelphia’s primary perimeter defender — something he acknowledged recently. 

“Defensively, I probably become the primary defender,” Green said. “Not that it’s an issue or a problem for me, but we have one less wing defender without [Ben]. Now it’s me and Matisse [Thybulle], not saying the other guys don’t play defense, but you talk about our main defenders, Ben was a big part of that and a part of our defense… Ben was DPOY for us this year. Everybody on our team, of course, we thought he, deservedly so, should have been Defensive Player of the Year. No disrespect to Rudy Gobert, he had a great year, as always, and for the last three years, but we thought Ben was able to guard one through five and set the tone for us. But if he’s gone that changes a lot.” 

Going from Simmons to Green as the primary defender is a pretty sizeable drop-off. That’s not meant to be a knock on Green, who has been a solid defender over the course of his career, but he’s also 34 years old, and he doesn’t have Simmons’ size or speed. The difference between the two defenders was evident during the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta. During that series, Green struggled to defend Hawks star guard Trae Young, while Simmons did a much more commendable job.

The Sixers could get a solid defender back in a trade, but whoever it is won’t be as solid as Simmons, and in turn, the Sixers appear destined to take a hit on that end.

3. Larger roles for Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle

In addition to defense, playmaking is the other area where the Sixers will miss Simmons the most. He has led the team in assists per game in each of the last four seasons, and he’s annually among the league’s leaders when it comes to generating open perimeter opportunities for his teammates. Obviously, some of his production on both ends of the floor would be replaced by whoever came back to Philadelphia in a trade, but some of it would have to come internally too. 

Defensively, Thybulle becomes the Sixers’ best defender sans Simmons, and as such his assignments on that end would increase — both in terms of duration and difficulty. To maximize the minutes that will be available to him following a Simmons trade, Thybulle needs to improve as a shooter. If he can do that, he becomes the prototypical wing in today’s NBA — the type of player that could play nearly 40 minutes a night and minimize the defensive blow that a Simmons trade would have on the Sixers.  

Similarly, Tyrese Maxey would also likely see a larger role following a Simmons trade. Given how well he played in a limited capacity for Philly as a rookie last season, Maxey was going to see more minutes this season regardless. A Simmons trade could potentially just open up even more minutes for the crafty guard. It’s tough to predict just how big Maxey’s role will be without knowing what the roster will look like on opening night, but he could prove to be a critical piece of the rotation. 

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