Don’t Trade the Farm for Ben Simmons

Photo: Mitchell Leff -Getty Images)

Alright Minnesota Timberwolves fans. We need to sit down and chat some things out. I know we’re desperate to see our favorite NBA franchise climb its way back into a playoff conversation. Hopes are as high as they’ve been in this basketball town since the Jimmy Butler era was still on the upswing and everyone who’s still paying attention wants to start seeing their time, money and decade+ of disappointment finally payoff.

But trading away everything you’ve built for a proven NBA star isn’t always the best way out of a hole and that’s a road we’ve already traveled, as Wolves fans. Yes this is a much different situation than what we encountered with Jimmy Butler, but let’s be honest, that’s not the only transaction that’s gone sideways for this franchise.

But on Sunday, SKOR North and Ch. 5 insider, Darren Wolfson, reported the Wolves as very interested in Ben Simmons, which would certainly stand as the next franchise altering move to reshape this organization. How much does Gersson Rosas want Simmons? “Badly”, according to the source who texted Wolfson.

Remember, Simmons is available because he’s being driven out of Philadelphia by a fanbase (and some inside the organization) that’s sick of watching him melt down in the playoffs.

Ben Simmons in the playoffs

How bad is Ben Simmons in the playoffs? Well, he’s a primary ball handler who can’t shoot. That includes free throws. Simmons was so afraid of throwing the ball toward the rim by the end of the 2021 playoffs that he hoisted just 45 total shots in 7 games, before being eliminated by Atlanta. That’s less than 6.5 attempts per game. For context, Damian Lillard shot 134 times in 6 games (or 22.3 times per game) before being bounced by Denver.

It gets worse. Damian Lillard, who’s admittedly the polar opposite of Simmons when talking shooting acumen, had an average shooting distance during this playoffs of 19.4 feet from the basket, a career high. Ben Simmons’ was 2.6 feet, a career low. I mentioned free throws earlier. If you can’t shoot the ball from the outside but you can get to the rim like Ben can, you’d better be able to make free throws. Simmons shot 45 free throws in 7 games vs the Hawks, which matched the number of field goals he attempted. He made just 15 of them (33.3%). Maybe that’s why he likes to shoot from 3 feet and in.

A lot of Ben Simmons’ playoff woes have built up in his head over time. In the first playoff series of his career (2018 vs Miami), Simmons shot 66 times in 5 games. That, to this day, stands as his career high for any playoff series. He’s played in two series that have gone to 7 games. Ben also shot 71% from the free throw line in his first ever playoff series back in 2018 vs Miami.

Here are his year-over-year playoff shooting stats. If you get nauseous easily, think about skipping this part.

DIST (ft)

Other red flags

But, those “in the know” with Jimmy Butler (like Chicago sportswriter Joe Cowley) tell a Ben Simmons’ story that goes much deeper than any physical or mental playoff block. Both Butler and Joel Embiid grew frustrated with Simmons’ refusal to improve his shooting and work on his game like they felt he needed to, according to an interview that Cowley did with KFAN yesterday.

There’s a reason why Butler beefed with both KAT and Simmons while playing with them. He thought they were soft and lacked the drive it took to win championships. Should the Wolves build their team based on the thoughts of Jimmy Butler? No, but do we really want to put both dudes on the same team?

Elite everywhere else

Simmons’ struggles in the playoffs all come back to his poor shooting ability. When he’s playing in the regular season, teams aren’t game-planning for him like they do in the playoffs. Getting to the rim is easier. He gets fouled less often and the pressure is mostly off. That allows the rest of his game flourish.

Ben does everything else at an elite level. He’s like Ricky Rubio on steroids and he’s one of the best and most versatile defenders in the NBA. At 6-11, he’s able to shut down a very large percentage of NBA offensive talent, especially all of the wing players who give other defenses headaches across the league.

Just look at the individual hardware Ben Simmons holds. He’s is a 3x All-Star, 2x All-Defensive Team and he was named All-NBA in 2019-20. Ben has more individual accolades than everyone on the Wolves combined.

Getting LSU Alum on the right team, where he doesn’t have to be a primary scorer, could be a franchise-changing move. And we all know how desperately the Minnesota Timberwolves need everything else Simmons does so well, especially the defense.

So, what’s the price?

At the end of the day, there’s not a basketball fan on the universe who doesn’t think Ben Simmons could help the Wolves climb out of their (pretty much) 15-year playoff drought. He’s a walking triple-double who would immediately improve this team in every aspect they crave.

But, then you see the price tag and want to turn around and walk right out of the store.

If the Wolves refuse to give up Ant or KAT, which everyone is assuming, then they’ll need at least three of four out of [D-Lo, Beasley and TWO 1st-round picks]. So, Gersson Rosas could save a 1st-rounder (or two) if he sends both Beasley and D-Lo out to the right team. But, if they insist on keeping D’Angelo Russell in a Minnesota uniform, then they have to be willing to lose AT LEAST two 1st-rounders in the deal (probably three).

Does Rosas prefer to trade all of his current shooting for Ben Simmons or all of his future draft picks? He’d have to deal one or the other.

Is it worth it?

Getting back to the playoffs would be great and Ben Simmons would make this team a legitimate 5-8 seed in the West. With the play-in tournament expected to come back for 2022, the Minnesota Timberwolves would be a bona fide playoff team following a trade for Simmons.

But, unless Ant becomes the next NBA great (which is certainly possible), the Wolves aren’t going very far with Ben Simmons and Karl-Anthony Towns as their main offensive pieces. I worry about KAT in the playoffs because of how fast teams play and I’ve now spent most of my day researching Ben Simmons’ obvious flaws.

Giving up Russell and Beasley for Simmons would be putting a limit on this team’s future and way too much pressure on Anthony Edwards becoming a top-10 NBA player. If the end-goal is the playoffs then dealing for Ben Simmons will check that box. If the goal is to become a real contender in the West, then Rosas will wait patiently for something better.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan