Stop booing. I’m trying to write an article, and it’s distracting.
With that said, I understand. In the parlance of the young people, the Houston Rockets were supposed to have “beat the Ben Simmons allegations”. Yet, here we are.
The Brooklyn Nets had been in ‘cursory talks’ with one Western Conference team about a deal that would return a veteran shooter and Ben Simmons' name came up in those talks— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) November 2, 2022
(Via @IanBegley ) pic.twitter.com/DhRjcnfBxB
Can you think of a veteran shooter in the Western Conference? More to the point, can you think of one that has looked utterly frustrated to be on one of the worst teams in the NBA for the entirety of the 2022-23 season?
Of course, this doesn’t have to be Eric Gordon. The alleged veteran shooter could just as easily be Doug McDermott, Tim Hardaway Jr., Malik Beasley, or...yeah. The list of veteran “shooters” on bad teams in the Conference who’d be viable trade targets in a Simmons exchange is actually pretty slim. This is probably at least a DEFCON 2 situation, folks.
Should the Rockets really trade for Ben Simmons?
The case for Ben Simmons
The first argument in favor of trading for Simmons is a simple one. He’d be the best player on the Rockets right now.
That’s practically irrefutable. Sure, Simmons has looked a little rusty to kick off 2022-23. At the same time, the Brooklyn Nets never offered him the right opportunity to shake that rust off. To begin with, they don’t have a stretch big man. A pick-and-roll with Simmons and Nic Claxton is about as dynamic as a drum loop with no accompanying music.
Furthermore, the stakes are high in Brooklyn. The situation seems toxic as well. The Nets don’t have time to figure out how to incorporate a player like Simmons into their attack. They need to look like prospective NBA champions soon, or they’ll implode.
By contrast, the Rockets are like Jay-Z in ‘96: they’re in the middle of a slow process, and they’ve got nothing but time.
Simmons is (definitely) a point guard
Simmons is a flawed player. That much is obvious. A lead ball-handler who’s going to go 0/0 from deep on a nightly basis presents substantial limitations.
He’s also one of the best passers in the NBA. If you’ve been watching the Rockets this season, you’ve likely complained about the team’s absolute lack of ball movement. Per NBA.com, the Rockets make 261.3 passes per contest, good for 26th in the NBA. From those passes, they generate 19.3 assists per game, which is tied for last in the league.
Of course, the Rockets already have a non-shooting passing hub with prodigious floor vision. At the same time, Ben Simmons is also one of the best defenders in the NBA. You’re entitled to your view on Alperen Sengun’s ceiling, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever describe him that way.
I’ll touch on their potential fit together later. For now, the point is that Simmons is a lead ball-handler who can orchestrate an offense. That offers functional advantages over a low-post passing hub.
Obviously, Kevin Porter Jr. has a stake in this conversation as well. The discussion surrounding his legitimacy as a point guard is a long-dead horse. I will not beat it. Can we agree that, since the numbers tell us that the Rockets are one of the worst passing teams in the NBA, they could use an elite passer?
Adding Simmons won’t nuke Porter Jr.’s role with the Rockets entirely either. Perhaps it necessitates his move to the wing or into a sixth-man role. The bottom line is that Simmons brings a skillset that this team is sorely lacking.
His value will never be lower
By my count, this is the third time we’ve had this conversation.
The first time Simmons was linked to the Rockets was when James Harden issued his trade request. The second time was when Simmons was collecting dust during his own trade request and it was suggested that the Rockets could flip John Wall for him. Now we’re looking at something like Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate, Boban Marjanovic (sorry) and maybe the Bucks pick.
There has to be some price point where Simmons is worth the cost, right? A wet sandwich? A Playstation 3? I’m a fan of Tate, but we’re talking about a three-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive First-Team player.
Surely, the Rockets should acquire him for that package.
The case against Ben Simmons
The first case against Simmons is about as obvious as the first case in his favor. It’s the jump shot.
In all likelihood, Simmons raises your floor while lowering your ceiling. He isn’t playoff-proof. He has a glaring weakness that’s easily exploited when it matters most.
Fans who are clamoring for the Rockets to improve will overlook his functional limitations. On the other hand, fans who don’t care about when the Rockets are good so much as how good they eventually are may be skeptical about Simmons.
Which, in fact, lends itself to another problem.
Simmons makes the Rockets better, but should they want that?
I already covered the tanking debate at length. You may or may not be in favor of the practice. At the same time, the Rockets are 1-8, and I don’t have a printable adjective to describe how poor this team’s offense looks. The direction we’re heading in has become obvious.
Simmons would have the Rockets changing course. Who would you rather have: Ben Simmons and Dariq Whitehead or one of Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson?
We’re already here — we might as well enjoy it. The Rockets are on pace to enter the next draft with a 28 percent chance of landing a potential superstar — higher, if the Nets continue to struggle.
Of course, that leads to another point. Would Gordon and Tate make the Nets better? It’s hard to say. Simmons is more talented than either, but they're both quality role players who should make it easier to build a sustainable offense around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
On the other hand, someone else will probably trade them a shooter or two for Simmons if the Rockets don’t. That’s why this part of the debate didn’t get it’s own section — it’s moot.
A question of fit
This isn’t necessarily a case for or against Simmons. His fit with this roster isn’t evidently good or bad. But it is interesting.
The fit with Sengun is definitely questionable. Yes, Sengun has flashed some potential to space the floor. Still, Joel Embiid was able to space the floor when he and Simmons were teammates too. Simmons doesn’t simply need to play alongside a big man who can shoot. He needs to play alongside one who generally prefers to shoot threes. Think Myles Turner.
Even if Sengun develops a strong three-point shot, he’s always going to be most effective with the ball on the low block, high post or the elbow. If you see him as a definitive cornerstone on this team, you should be out on Simmons.
On the other hand, if you’re open to a future with Jabari Smith Jr. at the five, Simmons, in my opinion, becomes very enticing. Granted, the early returns on Smith Jr. in that position haven’t been encouraging. He’s struggled with drop coverage.
So what? Imagine a future with Simmons, Smith Jr., Tari Eason, and a stout three-and-D wing in the starting lineup alongside Jalen Green. The Rockets would likely deploy a switch-everything, blitzing defensive scheme.
That sounds tempting. Is it tempting enough?
This piece reads like I’m in favor of trading for Simmons. I’m not, necessarily. With a gun to my head (metaphorically speaking, although, some of you will want to put an actual gun to my head after reading this), I’d probably pass on Simmons.
I do think this fanbase is a little too shot-creation crazed. Sometimes, I suspect the average Rockets fan wants to run Sengun with four off-guards. A creative coach should be able to find a use for Simmons’ passing acumen with proper spacing around him.
Still, the Rockets would probably be putting the cart before the horse by landing Simmons. They’d probably be better off letting this season play out, see where the lottery balls land and move from there.
Who knows? The next time Simmons is available, his team might be giving him away.