Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.
76ers Musings: Stop Overreacting To Ben Simmons Not Working Out
This week we continue our 76ers musings column, where we focus on a couple of (relatively) quick-hitting thoughts on topics being discussed about the Philadelphia 76ers.
You can read previous entries in the “Sixers Musings” series here.
Whether Ben Simmons works out for Sixers isn’t a big deal
Would it be good if the 76ers were able to get LSU forward Ben Simmons in for a workout? Of course. More information is better than less information, and having a one-on-one interview with a kid who is about to become the face of your franchise certainly provides value. Everybody would prefer to have Simmons in for a workout than not.
But that doesn’t mean we have to overreact to it. It doesn’t mean Ben Simmons is trying to force his way out of Philadelphia. It doesn’t mean Simmons doesn’t care about basketball. It’s not even all that bizarre. Last year Karl-Anthony Towns only worked out for one team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he did so five days before the draft. Kris Dunn hasn’t worked out for a team either.
Agents are controlling the process more and more. It started with limiting participation at the NBA combine, then evolved into just taking part in 1-on-none team workouts. As agents got away with changes like this, and the push back for doing so became less and less every year, they pushed for more and more, eventually declining invitations to the Combine entirely and, now, progressing to not having the top prospects in the draft work out at all.
It makes sense. Elite prospects like Ben Simmons don’t have to fight to be drafted. Simmons could skip the pre-draft process entirely, something which looks like it could possibly unfold that way, and there’s no way he falls out of the top-2 in the draft. There’s more to lose than there is to gain for Simmons, so agents will naturally do what’s best for their client.
Every year that envelope is pushed, and we make a big deal out of that envelope being pushed, but until there’s actual consequences to doing so that are deeper than mere outcry agents will continue to try to get away with more and more. That’s their job.
The thought that Simmons is doing this to force Philadelphia into passing on him doesn’t make sense. He hasn’t worked out for Los Angeles, either. He hasn’t worked out for any team. He’s just listening to what his agent thinks is best. It’s the next step in an annoying evolution of the draft process.
Am I going to say that refusing to work out for the Sixers would have no impact on the Sixers’ decision? No. I think the Sixers would like to interview him, and if the Sixers have any reservations about Simmons’ competitiveness, he’s missing out on the chance to ease those concerns. But I think it’s a very minor factor in the overall equation, with the chance to move the needle only ever-so-slightly in either direction. I don’t ultimately think it’s going to change their decision.
*Note: Bryan Colangelo did say that they were hoping to get a meeting with Simmons in Cleveland, where Simmons is training. If that happens, it would accomplish the most important part of the pre-draft workout: an interview with the player. How Simmons does against cones, chairs, or assistant coaches carries with it almost no weight in the Sixers’ decision.
Don’t prioritize the point guard spot
There’s been a lot of talk about how the Sixers need to get a point guard, fueled in part because the Sixers went so long last year without an accomplished NBA point guard. on the roster
Point guard is perhaps the position the Sixers need the least.
When you draft Ben Simmons, you do so to put the ball in his hands. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be the only ball handler, but he’s going to be a major ball handler. Probably even the primary ball handler.
That gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility. While there are point guards who can certainly work with Simmons, it becomes less of a priority and less of a requirement to put forth significant resources to acquire, since you’re already acquiring somebody who is going to fill a significant part of that role.
What you really need next to Simmons, regardless of what position they play, is shooting and defense. A bonus: defensive versatility, versatility which you now have a leg up to build because of Simmons’ unique gifts. It’s not only that Simmons himself has the physical tools to defend multiple positions, because of his combination of 6’10” size, plus lateral mobility, and strength, tools that absolutely exist even if it’s going to take some coaching to get him into the habit of utilizing them consistently. On top of that, Simmons’ ability to run the offense through him allows you to specifically target bigger “point guards” who can defend multiple positions, something which is sometimes hard to find in conjunction with having spent a lifetime running an offense.
By putting a lot of shot creation responsibilities in Simmons’ gifted hands, you have flexibility in who to acquire. A “big” guard who can shoot and defend multiple positions, but might not have natural point guard instincts, becomes a legit possibility. That’s the competitive advantage Simmons provides.
A guy like this Kent Bazemore becomes interesting in this role. Bazemore has developed into a “good” shooter, connecting on 35.9 percent of his 437 three-point attempts over the past two years. And while he’s not quite an elite defender because he can be overpowered by some of the bigger small forwards in the game, he has the quickness to competently defend point guards, and that ability to defend two positions becomes a legitimate plus when his inability to run an offense isn’t as glaring of a weakness because of your unique team construction.
None of this means to avoid point guards. If the best talent on the board is a point guard, go for it. And that may very well be the case if the Sixers do acquire another top-5 pick, as I have Providence point guard Kris Dunn pretty easily rated as the 4th best prospect in this draft. But don’t reach for a point guard because it’s a “position of need”, as you have quite a bit of flexibility in the skill sets you can now target.
Don’t ignore stashing players overseas
Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo has frequently spoken about how difficult it is to develop too many players at once, something I think holds merit.
That being said, I also don’t think either the 24th or 26th pick in the draft are going to bring back a significant return, and I’d rather not sell one of them off to the highest bidder if the return isn’t worthwhile.
Instead, I’d rather draft a player who can be stashed overseas, even if you have to draft higher than their expected range to do so.
This could be somebody who falls, like shooting guard Furkan Korkmaz. It could also be somebody who falls but doesn’t necessarily fill an immediate position of need, like big men Ivica Zubac or Ante Zizic. What the Sixers need right now may not be the same as what they will need in two to three years when the players come over. Draft for talent.
But even if it means reaching ever-so-slightly on a prospect like shooting guard Isaia Cordinier or small forward Paul Zipser, both of whom I like quite a bit, I’d give it serious consideration. The contracts these late first round picks will get are virtual peanuts, especially since the rookie-scale contract doesn’t increase in line with the increase in basketball related income.
If you draft Paul Zipser, an incredible athlete who shot 43.6 percent from three-point range in German league play, even if he doesn’t work out there’s no real cost to missing on him. A guy like Zipser has a considerable amount of upside for where he’ll be selected, and with limited roster spots and playing time taking a chance on him and seeing where he’ll be in a couple of years is something I’d have a lot of interest in.
Don’t expect a trade before the day of the draft
The rumors will swirl over the next week about potential trades, but don’t expect anything to happen before next Thursday.
The Sixers aren’t going to make a major trade until they know they’ve gotten the best offer out there, and teams aren’t compelled to make their best offer until the last possible minute.
Deadlines are the lubricant to make trades happen. It’s when buying teams feel compelled to make their best offer, and when selling teams can no longer talk themselves into something better being right around the corner. It would be a huge surprise if something happened prior to the draft.
Don’t make too much out of reports over Sixers’ uncertainty
Much has been made of Bryan Colangelo’s recent comments, which came on the day of Brandon Ingram‘s workout, that their decision on who to select first overall changes every day.
That would suggest that the previous reports that the Sixers had a strong preference for Simmons was incorrect, or at the very least, no longer necessarily representative of how the organization is thinking.
In the context of how it was said, however, it seemed more like covering up a previous admission that Colangelo may have regretted making.
A little over two weeks ago Colangelo went on the radio with Howard Eskin and said they knew who they would select if the draft were today.
That same radio host started off the press conference after Ingram’s workout pressing Colangelo on those comments. To me, the exchange, with Colangelo almost flippantly ending it by saying “it [the decision] changes every day”, wasn’t literal in nature, but instead trying to cover up for the reaction his comments two weeks ago caused, and making sure the same thing didn’t happen this time.
I’ve included the exchange below. You can come to your own conclusion.
Most importantly, multiple league sources continue to tell me that Simmons is the prohibitive favorite to be selected first overall next week. At a time of the year when misdirection is the goal for almost every team in the league, don’t put too much stock into public, on-the-record comments from an executive prevented by league rules from announcing his decision.