May 02, 2017
The other day on Twitter, as NFL Draft hype reached DEFCON 1, Daily News columnist David Murphy posed a big-picture offseason basketball question on Twitter that I struggled with (in a positive way).
If you ran the Sixers, would you trade Ben Simmons to the New York Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis?
Despite Porzingis’ understandable unhappiness with Phil Jackson’s Knicks — The Zenmaster is unsuccessfully trying to bully Carmelo Anthony and insisting the team installs an outdated offensive scheme — this is not a report. Far from it. It’s just a team-building hypothetical that I find fun.
Again, not a report at all.
Simmons has been sold as a building block, and rightfully so. Meanwhile, Porzingis plays for a rival, purposely avoided the Sixers in the pre-draft process, and hasn’t done a ton of winning in his first two NBA seasons.
Sixers fans shouldn’t dismiss the discussion, though. Porzingis is a UNICORN! If we redid the 2015 NBA Draft, the top two picks are easy: Karl-Anthony Towns first and the Zinger second. The Lakers and Sixers both missed an opportunity with their picks.
Looking back at the underwhelming 2016 rookie class, it appears as if the Sixers didn’t miss with the top pick even if Simmons hasn’t played yet. To me, here are some factors in any Simmons vs. Porzingis discussion…
Higher ceiling vs. higher floor: Some may take this as “unproven vs. proven,” but it’s more about both players’ skill sets, “shooting vs. non-shooting.” Porzingis averaged 18.1 points per game and shot 36 percent from three this season. My guess is that number will improve over time. And already at 21 years old, he can put the ball on the floor and attack a closeout.
With apologies to his shooting and rim protection, Porzingis doesn’t possess a potentially transcendent skill like Simmons’ playmaking. Then again, he doesn’t have a potentially fatal flaw like Simmons’ shooting. We knew Porzingis could shoot before he entered the NBA, as he would run off screens in the Spanish ACB like a 7-foot Ray Allen. Simmons shot 1-3 from three-point range in college and 67 percent from the line. The Sixers haven’t had a ton of success reworking jump shots in the past, either. I would imagine this is the case league-wide.
Simmons won’t be a normal point guard. Going under on the screen won’t be as easy when the ball-handler is 6’10” and can dunk on you or make any pass in traffic. I’m fairly confident that Porzingis will be a top-15 player during his career, but not a top-5 guy. Simmons probably has a higher ceiling, but definitely also a lower floor.
Fit with Joel Embiid: This one is more subjective, but it’s obviously important. Porzingis is probably best suited to defend centers long-term once he gets stronger, but would his lack of perimeter footspeed matter less with Embiid to clean up everything? Offensively, two 7-footers with legit three-point range who can punish mismatches would be something.
Balancing the books: If everything else is equal, the nod goes to Simmons, who will make $8,113,930 in 2019-20 when Porzingis will be due an extension in the $27 million range. The extra year of saving could help the Sixers land an impact free agent in 2019 (Jimmy Butler?) and then go over the cap when Simmons is due an extension of his own.
Verdict: This is where not seeing Simmons this season hurts. I initially said I would trade Simmons for Porzingis last week, but I understand the other argument. From the outside, the fear of positional overlap coupled with what I believe to be Porzingis’ lower ceiling could be tiebreakers in Simmons’ favor.
I think Ben Simmons has a chance to be very good and the Sixers are right to be excited about him. Heck, I'm excited to watch him but his shooting is a not-so-small question mark. Regardless, I think it’s pretty close between him and Porzingis in this super hypothetical. What say you?
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann
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