The Warriors once again look like a juggernaut.
With an NBA-best 15-2 record heading into Wednesday’s clash with the 76ers, Golden State looks every bit like the dominant franchise that reached five straight Finals from 2015 to 2019. The hot start has quieted most of the chatter about the Warriors potentially making a major win-now move. One of the names that surfaces from time to time? Ben Simmons. Philly’s trip to the Bay brings to light three questions central to the debate:
- Should the Warriors trade for Simmons?
- What would a package look like?
- How would he actually fit?
Even if early success has muffled most of the Simmons-to-San Francisco whispers, one can’t help but wonder if a blockbuster transforms Golden State into championship favorites. To sift through it all, two of SN’s NBA writers — Scott Rafferty and Carlan Gay — break it all down. Needless to say, they do not agree…
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): A number of teams have been linked to Ben Simmons since news broke early in the offseason that the 76ers were exploring trades for him.
Of all of them, I think it’s safe to say the Warriors are one of the most — if not the most — interesting.
The Warriors are already looking like the best team in the league and don’t even have Klay Thompson back in the lineup yet, but there is a world in which they package together some of their younger assets to pursue another star ahead of the trade deadline to pair with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson as they chase title No. 4 together.
We can talk about whether or not Golden State could put together a package that would interest the 76ers for Simmons, but before we do, I’m curious as to what you think about his potential fit on the Warriors.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I have a hard time believing it would work. I get it the Warriors may have two of the best spacers in league history with Curry and a healthy Thompson, but I picture Simmons running into some of the same issues he ran into in Philadelphia playing alongside Green.
I think you can get away with having one of the two play alongside the Splash Brothers — Draymond has been very successful in the role over the years — but once you add another similarly offensively limited player on the floor, it gives the defense another player they can recklessly help off of to get to two of the greatest shooters in NBA history.
Rafferty: See, I’m more optimistic.
There’s no doubt that there would be some spacing issues — Green would likely have to play a lot more center than he is right now to make it work — but I think Simmons and Green are smart enough to figure it out.
As you alluded to, Curry and Thompson are perhaps the two-biggest gravity suckers in NBA history, to the point where Warriors games consistently turn into games of 4-on-3. Simmons has the potential to wreak havoc playing more out of the short roll, and I think he’d get more playing out of the dunker spot in Golden State than he has in the past in Philadelphia because there would be more space to work with.
Just look at the success Gary Payton II has had so far this season. Granted, he’s playing a much smaller role than Simmons would, but his limitations as a shooter haven’t stuck out much at all yet. Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney also play a lot, and neither of them are exactly floor spacers.
Ultimately, it’s the end of games I would worry more about. The first 44ish minutes, I don’t think it would be a problem. Just imagine Simmons grabbing a rebound while Curry and Thompson fill the lanes in transition or the Warriors running their split-cut action with Simmons in control. I think the offense would still be dynamite.
And the defense would, well, be absolutely terrifying.
MORE: Best potential destinations for Ben Simmons
Gay: Defensively, it has the potential to be great. Offensively, it could be a disaster.
I think what it comes down to for me is this: In the regular season, this would look great, but once the playoffs start we’re back to square one with Simmons, especially if he has Green alongside him. Just as you believe Simmons and Green may be smart enough to play alongside each other, I believe that the league is smart enough to figure out how to bog them down.
I mean, look how the Grizzlies defended Draymond when he caught the ball on the perimeter in the Play-In game last season:
When you look at the history of what Simmons has done with spacing around him, I look mainly at how differently he plays with and without Joel Embiid. In his rookie season, when, in my opinion, he had the best shooters around him, he led the 76ers on an incredible stretch to close the year when Embiid had to miss games due to injury. The 76ers looked so good it had some predicting they would make the Finals. They blew through the Heat in five games in the first round but everything came to a screeching halt in the second round once Boston figured out that it could leave Simmons and focus on neutralizing the shooters.
Listen, the Warriors make it work with Draymond because even if he’s not an adept long-range shooter, he’s still willing. It works with Gary Payton II because he plays limited minutes and he’s one of the league’s best cutters. According to NBA Stats, Payton II is in the 96th percentile in scoring efficiency this season as a cutter, and while he’s not a marksman from deep, he still shows the willingness to shoot catch-and-shoot triples.
Now, Simmons is a good cutter as well — in fact, the 76ers used him as the primary cutter in the playoffs last season and he ranked in the 69th percentile — but as you said, when the game is on the line, can we trust that he’ll continue to cut and be willing to play the hack-a-Ben game that he knows is coming his way?
For me, it’s not just a matter of sticking Simmons in the dunker spot and hoping his playmaking can be a threat there. He has to become a willing scorer for his playmaking to matter. At his core, he’s a guy who would rather pass than shoot, even before you get into the issues he faces in the biggest moments of games. The jig is up, the league knows this guy has no interest in shooting, period.
What good is the added value of the world’s best possible spacing if he doesn’t use it?
Rafferty: A disaster?!
Gay: Did I stutter?
Rafferty: Look, I totally get the concerns because Simmons isn’t exactly a seamless fit anywhere because of his limitations as a shooter, but we’re still talking about one of the league’s best passers who, when he wants to, can put a ton of pressure on teams at the basket. Of everyone in the league, I think Curry is best suited to get the most out of him because of how much attention he commands on the perimeter.
The biggest problem in Philly right now is that Simmons and Embiid are fighting over the same real estate, with both of them wanting to play in the paint. That wouldn’t be as much of an issue in Golden State, even if he did share the bulk of his minutes with Green. It’s easy to say “just help off of Green and Simmons,” but the reality is, giving either one of them space would make it easier for Curry and Thompson to get open because it means one less defender is involved in the play.
We’ve seen it a million times — if Green isn’t being defended, he just flows right into a handoff for Curry. Simmons would do the same. And when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, I’d think being in Steve Kerr’s system would unleash him as a cutter and roller in ways we haven’t seen from him yet.
MORE: Building the perfect team around Ben Simmons
Gay: Yeah, a disaster. The Dubs offense has the potential to go from being one of the most free-flowing offenses to watching a guy shoot a bunch of free throws.
Gay: And are we sure Simmons wants to play in the paint? I’ve watched Embiid hang out on the perimeter more times than I think I’ve wanted to accommodate Simmons.
Also, it’s not just simply helping off Simmons because he can’t shoot, it’s encouraging him to shoot and turn into a scorer, which by nature isn’t what he wants to do. If I’m a defense, I’m happy to trade Simmons 2s for Curry and Klay 3s. I watched the Spurs in the 2005 playoffs allow Amar’e Stoudemire average 37.0 points per game for the series, taking almost 10 more shots per game than he had in the regular season, just so they could stop the Suns from taking 3s. (By the way, they won the series in five games.)
Teams would turn Simmons into a scorer and live with the results. Is that really what’s going to carry the Warriors to the next level?
I do agree with you that Steph can unlock some things with Simmons because Steph can unlock things with anyone he’s with on the court, but I think for me the problem is having two non scoring threats on the floor for an extended period of time. Adding Ben to the core of Steph, Klay and Draymond doesn’t turn them into a championship team because I believe you get a lot of the things Ben would do already with Draymond. That role doesn’t need to be duplicated and it doesn’t give them a better chance at winning.
I think there are places where Simmons can flourish, though. I’d love to see him in Minnesota with Karl Anthony-Towns — I think Towns being a more efficient 3-point shooter than Embiid would change things a bit for him.
But in Golden State, I’d pass if I’m the front office.
Rafferty: You know what’s better than 3s? Layups and dunks. And Simmons would probably get a whole lot of those playing next to two players who can never be left alone and one of the league’s best passers.
We’re clearly not going to agree on his fit offensively, but I do think it’s worth talking about two other aspects of this.
One, we touched on it already, but I do think the Warriors would be terrifyingly good defensively. They’re already the No. 1 ranked defense in the league, but adding Simmons would give them one of the best point of attack defenders in the league and someone who could wreak havoc alongside Green. His defense would be more valuable to the Warriors in the playoffs because it would give them someone to throw at the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Luka Doncic, you name it.
Would you agree with that?
Gay: I’d take made 3s over 2s, but that’s just me…
Defensively, I agree that Simmons is a great defender and, in theory, should improve the Warriors’ defense, but I’d need to see it first. Simmons has been a great point-of-attack defender so far in his career, but I want to see what that looks like without Embiid as a safety net. Last season in games when both Simmons and Embiid played together, the 76ers had a defensive rating of 104.3. In those same games, when Embiid went to the bench but Simmons stayed on the floor, the 76ers had a defensive rating of 115.5, per PBP Stats.
And that’s not just last season either. In 2019-20 with both of them on the floor, Philly had a defensive rating of 107.9. When Embiid sat in those same games and Simmons was on the floor, Philly’s defensive rating was 112.6.
Now I’m not saying Simmons needs Embiid to be a good defender, but I need to see him without Embiid to give an honest opinion. Draymond is great, but he isn’t what Embiid is as a backline protector, so I’m not ready to just say Simmons makes them an exponentially better defensive team.
I think the way the Warriors defend now, I can live with Wiggins and hopefully a healthy Klay as primary defenders.
Rafferty: I mean, Green is a ridiculously good safety net as well. We are talking about the front-runner for DPOY right now! Green and Simmons would make for one of the best defensive duos we’ve ever seen, but I digress.
As for the second point, any deal for Simmons would likely require the Warriors to gut their depth, which has been one of their strengths so far this season.
What would a Ben Simmons trade look like for the Warriors?
Rafferty: Assuming Curry, Thompson and Green are off-limits for obvious reasons, any deal for Simmons would likely require Andrew Wiggins to match salaries. From there, you’re building out the package with Golden State’s young players.
If you’re the 76ers, are there any players in particular you’re drawn to? And if you’re the Warriors, are there any particular players you’d not want to give up?
For what it’s worth, this works on ESPN’s trade machine:
The Curry brothers, reunited!
Gay: If I’m the 76ers, I didn’t wait this long and go through all this drama to come away with a Wiggins-led package.
If I’m the Warriors, outside of the trio we keep referring to, I don’t think there’d be a player that I’d be adamant to keep off the table.
The Curry brothers being reunited would be a cool story for about two weeks. I’m not moved by it.
Rafferty: I mean, Seth Curry in Kerr’s system would be nice…
Ultimately, that’s the hard part about all of this for the Warriors, right? The 76ers have made it clear that they want a star and the Warriors don’t have one to offer if Curry, Thompson and Green aren’t involved. And even if you’re really high on Wiseman’s potential, he doesn’t make much sense next to Embiid because they play the same position.
So really, the only way this is a possibility is if the 76ers lower their asking price — which, depending on how long this goes on for, could happen I suppose — or if a third team gets involved.
I have a Warriors-76ers-Trail Blazers trade that the trade machine has given me the green light, but we’re entering dangerous territory here.
Gay: Yeah, I think this trade is unlikely to happen but I also think that’s for the best if you’re a Warriors fan. The team is playing great basketball and could make a run this season.
Now do us a favor and leave the trade machine alone.