All the online chatter, in part instigated by the Bullets Forever social media team, about the idea of trading Russell Westbrook to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons had me look closer at Simmons’ postseason performance. And while I’m not here to praise him, I’m not exactly going to bury him either. Perhaps some of both.
Speed rewind to the end of the regular season, or even just to the end of the first round. If someone had proposed Westbrook for Simmons, they’d have faced ridicule. Simmons wrecked the Wizards as Philly romped 4-1. It was obvious Simmons was better.
Here’s Simmons’ game-by-game PPA and for the series against the Wizards. PPA is my overall production metric. It’s a per possession metric that weighs a player’s good contributions (points, rebounds, assists, defense) against his negatives (missed shots, turnovers, fouls). It accounts for defense and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor. In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better and 45 is replacement level.)
- Game: 176; Series: 176
- Game: 435; Series: 287
- Game: 229; Series: 269
- Game: 205; Series: 256
- Game: 207; Series: 244
Then came the series against Atlanta, and his production plummeted. Somehow, the guy who produced the game two masterpiece against the Wizards — 22 points on 11-15 shooting, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, just 2 turnovers and 1 foul in 28.6 minutes, transmogrified into a guy so afraid of shooting he had just 14 attempts over the final three games of Philly’s loss to the Hawks.
Somehow, the guy who was seemingly everywhere on the court against the Wizards stood in the dunker spot clogging the lane and stunting his team’s offense.
Somehow, the 6-10 player with PG skills became so fearful of a trip to the free throw line that he passed out of an open dunk and cost his team a critical point in a close game seven.
And yet, this timid player ended his playoffs with a 20.0% usage rate (exactly average) and offensive efficiency 5.3 points per 100 possessions better than the playoffs average. This despite shooting a staggeringly awful 34.2% from the free throw line.
And yet, here’s the complete list of guys in the playoffs who averaged a triple-double per 100 team possessions:
- Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, (per 100 team possessions): 46.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 13.4 assists
- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers: 17.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 12.6 assists
- Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards: 24.0 points, 13.1 rebounds, 14,9 assists.
Superficially, Westbrook looks better than Simmons. But Westbrook was also 10.7 points per 100 possessions less efficient than the playoffs average. Simmons shot 34% from the free throw line; Westbrook shot 36% from two-point range and 25% from three. And he committed more than five turnovers per 100 team possessions. Roll everything together into a PPA burrito and it looks like this:
- Doncic 198
- Simmons 167
- Westbrook 92
Don’t think I’m dumping on Westbrook, by the way. He played outstanding basketball the last quarter of the season and was on a bum ankle in the playoffs.
And, that Simmons meltdown against Atlanta was real. Here are Simmons PPA scores by game against Atlanta:
- Game: 187; Series: 187
- Game: 93; Series: 142
- Game: 120; Series: 135
- Game: 181; Series: 147
- Game: 40; Series: 124
- Game: 17; Series: 111
- Game: 145; Series: 116
He dominated against the Wizards. Versus the Hawks, he collapsed in games five and six, and was terrified of shooting in games five, six and seven...and yet he also had 8 rebounds and 13 assists plus some outstanding defense in game seven.
Again, I’m not here to praise Simmons. As I said on Armon Lee’s The Quarter-Lee Report, it’s one thing to be bad at shooting, it’s quite another to be afraid.
I’m unconvinced that Simmons can be the PG on a championship level team — especially if he doesn’t work with a psychologist to break through the mental block that has him hiding in big moments. Although he’s a terrific player and a unique talent, I am convinced the fit with Embiid is a bad one and that both Simmons and the Sixers would benefit from a trade.
For Simmons, the best thing might be to land on a team with a good PG where he can play more of a point-center role. At 6-10, he has the length, agility and defensive chops to take on that kind of role, and his ball handling, passing and full-court speed would be a nightmare matchup for opponents.
Would I trade Westbrook for Simmons? I’m back and forth on this minute by minute. Simmons is signed for four more seasons; Westbrook two. Simmons is 24; Westbrook 32. The next four years of Simmons is likely to be better than the next four from Westbrook.
But, what if the fear persists? What if Simmons dominates weaker opponents like the Wizards and then retreats in those key moments?
Ultimately, if it was a true one-for-one swap, I’d...still not be sure. At this moment, I lean towards making the trade and then hiring the best sports psychologist I could find to work with Simmons. It’d be a $140+ million gamble over the next four seasons, and backfire and make the team worse. When I think about it again later, I might change my mind.
I mean, he consumes too much of the cap to spend the playoffs standing in the dunker spot. But he also so many skills that it’s easy to imagine him overcoming his mental block and becoming a great player.
It’s almost certainly little more than something for fans to chew on, however. The Wizards value Westbrook’s leadership and work ethic and believe he’s changing the team’s culture and helping build winning habits. It seems farfetched they’d trade someone as uber-confident as Westbrook for someone as timid as Simmons has been in his team’s biggest moments.
What would you do?
Would you trade Russell Westbrook for Ben Simmons?
This poll is closed