When the Brooklyn Nets traded for James Harden last year, they essentially bargained their future for a championship. And even with hindsight of how the Big 3 experiment went, I still believe it was the right move. Regardless, the Brooklyn Nets salvaged remnants of their future while also competing for an NBA title by trading James Harden for a package around Ben Simmons and 2 first-round picks (plus more.) With the move, the Brooklyn Nets remain a top contender in this league with a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But as the two superstars age and with the Nets depleted of future first-round picks, only one question remains: can Ben Simmons be Brooklyn’s main centerpiece moving forward?
Ben Simmons’ Strong Defensive Impact
Simmons drew many comparisons to LeBron James during pre-draft evaluations. Given his elite athleticism, court vision, and size, 76er fans thought they had drafted the next superstar in the making with the first pick in 2016. While Simmons had an underwhelming start to his career, he has (to an extent) lived up to the hype. At 25, Simmons is a three-time All-Star and has made third-team All-NBA. More so, he was second in defensive player of the year voting during 2020 and looks to be a perennial candidate for the award. Simmons has the perfect defensive archetype as a player.
At 6’11, Ben Simmons guarded pick and roll handlers for 40% of his defensive possessions. Simmons can bother ball handlers with his 7-foot wingspan by cutting off their diving lanes and forcing them to pass. Simmons also found success guarding guys bigger and stronger than him as well. As an uber-athletic 6’11 player, he can switch on to any player on the court making him extremely valuable on the defensive end. While Simmons has clear offensive limitations, his defensive upside alone makes him a player worth building around.
Concern Around Ben Simmons
However, there are some major concerns about building around a player like Ben Simmons. His biggest weakness as a player derives from his offense–or lack of it. According to Synergy, Simmons is in the 37th percentile as an overall offensive player. He’s a very limited half-court player, mostly because of his lack of jump shot. Simmons’ hesitancy to shoot a jump makes him a giant space killer. Teams will intentionally sag off him as he sits on the dunker spot, virtually taking him out of the possession entirely.
More so, Simmons also seems to have recurring health concerns, specifically around his back. These are all things the Nets should be wary about when incorporating Simmons as part of their long-term plans.
Ultimately, I think Simmons is an excellent player and a great transition piece when moving on from the KD/Kyrie era. However, I’m not sure if he’s a player the franchise can build around. He is about to turn 26 and is going to command nearly $40 million in his next two years. Outside of the contract, Simmons has legitimate flaws as a player, specifically his offense. While he’s an intriguing piece for the future and one the Nets desperately need after the Harden trade, Brooklyn’s future ultimately lies on the shoulders of Sean Marks.