At this point, it feels like Ben Simmons has been on the trade block for roughly half of the entire Process. The fit between the divisive Philadelphia 76ers star and Joel Embiid is tenuous at best. Unfortunately, that points to a larger issue: identifying a fit for Simmons is hard, period.
Not that the 6’10 playmaker doesn’t offer value to an NBA team. Ben Simmons is an All-World defensive player with a preternatural gift for passing. His abilities are undeniable. However, in this three-point dominant era of basketball, his functionality as a lead ball-handler without a jump shot has come into question. There seem to be two schools of thought regarding Simmons’ ideal role in the NBA. Some would like to see him as the centerpiece of an offense that surrounds him with spacing. Others would prefer to watch him transition into a Draymond-esque role. For them, he could be most effective by emphasizing defense and transition offense without demanding the ball in half-court sets. It’s unclear how he may fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers in either role.
NBA Rumors: Is Ben Simmons a Good Fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
At 20-13, the Cavaliers have been one of the feel-good stories of the 2021-22 NBA season. Their Defensive Rating of 104.27 lags behind only the Golden State Warriors across the entire league. They’re better than advertised, and that may have their front office hungry to make win-now moves.
The Cavs currently boast one of the most unique roster constructions in the NBA. With the league generally trending towards small ball, the Cavs run a triple towers formation. Lauri Markkanen would likely see the bulk of his minutes at the 5 on an average NBA team, shadowing the 4 spot in certain matchups. On these Cavs, he starts at small forward. Rookie sensation Evan Mobley holds down the 4, and at 6’11, many analysts expected him to feature at the 5 on the NBA level. Jarrett Allen rounds out this group’s jumbo frontcourt. He’s having a breakout season as their starting center.
Adding a 6’10 point guard would certainly allow this group to lean even more heavily into their big ball philosophy. Is Ben Simmons the right 6’10 point guard for this group?
Ben Simmons as a Cleveland Cavaliers Centerpiece
These Cavs may boast an elite defense, but the offense could stand to improve. Their Offensive Rating of 111.61 ranks 14th in the NBA. That’s an acceptable mark for a team that’s winning on the strength of its defense, but it’s far from elite. Would putting the ball in the hands of Ben Simmons nudge this Cavaliers offense closer to the top 10?
To answer that, one must first turn to Darius Garland. He’s currently running point for the Cavs, and by most accounts, he’s doing an excellent job. The third-year pro is averaging 19.5 points and 7.3 assists per contest. He’s also posting an impressive 2.7 Offensive Box/Plus-Minus (OBPM) and 59.4 True Shooting % (TS%). It’s hard to imagine that the Cavaliers need an upgrade at his position.
A glance at Simmons’ numbers in the same advanced categories suggests that the Cavs are better off with Garland at the point. The last time we saw Simmons in regular action, he posted a 0.7 OBPM over 58 games in 2020-21. His 58.4 TS% over the same stretch is solid, but a peek under the hood indicates that Garland’s shooting holds much more offensive value. This season, Garland is shooting 38.4% on 6.8 attempts per game.
In case you missed the memo, Ben Simmons isn’t likely to hit those kinds of marks.
It seems logical to assume that these Cavaliers need Garland’s floor spacing. As it stands, this group is 16th in the NBA in threes attempted per game (35.3). They’re a solid 10th in accuracy, hitting 35.9% of those attempts. Those are fine numbers, but if you swapped Simmons in for Garland, they’d inevitably plummet.
Can Simmons and Darius Garland Co-Exist?
Of course, the Cavs could aim to acquire Simmons without losing Garland. In that event, they may opt to simply shift Garland to the off-guard. That spot is currently occupied by Isaac Okoro. He’s a more willing shooter than Simmons, but that doesn’t make him a prolific one. He’s currently hitting 30.1% of his 3.2 threes per contest.
However, the fit still feels questionable. Taking the ball out of a quality shooter like Garland’s hands to put it in Simmons’ may deflate an offense that already relies on several suspect shooters. Jarred Allen is not the type of stretch 5 that projects as a good fit for Simmons as a lead ball-handler. The same conflicts that arose with Joel Embiid over the dunker’s spot should be doubly applicable in a Simmons/Allen pick-and-roll. Furthermore, Garland’s 7.3 helpers per night suggest that he already provides the Cavs with ample playmaking. His ability to do that while also hitting 3s makes him a better fit with Allen and the rest of this Cavs starting lineup.
If Simmons does end up on the Cavaliers, he may have to settle into a more supporting role. Can he fit with this group in that context?
Ben Simmons as a Cleveland Cavaliers Role Player
The first problem with trying to fit Simmons with a supporting role is the same with any team: he doesn’t seem to want one. Leaving that issue aside, there are good reasons to question his fit as a role player with these Cavaliers.
Those reasons probably start with Evan Mobley. The Cavaliers do not need to acquire a defensive-minded secondary playmaker at the 4, as they already have one in the 20-year-old phenom. Mobley is this team’s franchise player, so they may want to hesitate in acquiring a player who steps on his toes.
Simmons’ overlap with Mobley points to more general reasons the Cavs don’t need Simmons. This group is second in Defensive Rating, and 14th in Offensive Rating. If Simmons’ signature skill is defense, and he last posted a lower offensive rating than their current point guard, what need is he filling for this particular roster?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a surprisingly good team. Ben Simmons is a good player available on the trade market. Given his elite positional size and the jumbo ball philosophy of the team, they may be a perfect match at first glance. However, a deeper dive suggests that the Cavs may be better off without him. Evan Mobley and Darius Garland are too important to this team’s future to risk alienating.
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