Ben Simmons is not a bad NBA starting point guard by virtue of the fact that he is a great passer and defender, but as we evaluate where he’s at in his second season would he crack the top 10 at his position? If so, it’s by a thread.
As three-point shooting continues to proliferate in the league, Simmons has literally not attempted a single shot from beyond the arc this season. The Sixers are generally talented enough to win about two-thirds of their games just by virtue of having what Simmons does provide in addition to two stars in Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler. Nevertheless, my contention is that there are about 10 point guards in the NBA who are better than Simmons in a playoff series, and that Simmons’ shooting liability late in games is going to submarine them in the postseason as they fall short of the Eastern Conference Finals. (If the season ended today, they’d play the Celtics and fail to even make the second round.)
Obviously salary matters and Simmons is all things considered a solid value making $6.4 million on his rookie deal. However, these point guards are better in a vacuum right now:
Stephen Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook. Perhaps you’re not enamored with Westbrook, but if Westbrook and Simmons switch places do you really think the Thunder are 21-12 and third in the West right now? Or that the Sixers’ win total decreases? The other argument here could be that Harden is not a point guard, as he shares a backcourt with Chris Paul. But, given how much the ball is in his hands — and that this is my exercise — I’m counting him.
You could argue but I’d think you’re wrong
Mike Conley and De’Aaron Fox. Now we’re up to 8. Conley is averaging 20 points per game on a Grizzlies when Memphis has about seven less possessions per game than Philadelphia (the Grizzlies have the least possessions per game while the Sixers have the fourth-most).
If last year’s Draft were redone today, do you think the Sixers would take Simmons over Fox? I honestly don’t, especially given that the rumblings that Simmons is going to head to Tinseltown the first chance he gets are already simmering. Fox may not be a high volume 3-point shooter, but he’s knocking down over 40% of them on 3.1 attempts per game this season.
You’ll think I’m wrong but I can live with that
So now we’ve reached a point where I believe fairly strongly that Simmons is not a top 25% starter at his position in the NBA. Further, there are even a couple other point guards like Eric Bledsoe and D’Angelo Russell who you’d probably say I’m crazy to prefer over Simmons in a hotly contested playoff series, but I’d nonetheless choose — remember how Simmons vanished into a bizarre state of passivity in Game 2 against the Celtics last year as the Sixers blew a 22-point lead?
It bears repeating that Simmons is a phenomenal defender and passer. It’s too early to write him off for life as not-elite in his second season. If, like, Brook Lopez could develop a three-point shot nearly a decade into his NBA career, it’s certainly conceivable that Simmons could grind out an ability to shoot from the perimeter. However, until he does so, he is not going to be an asset in the playoffs given what the sport has become.