Ben Simmons, a multi-time All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate is far and away the most accomplished player under 25 available this off-season. Since winning the 2018 Rookie of the Year, Simmons has been one of the league’s most polarizing players. He switches from being a poor shooter to one that refuses it… all the while being elite at seemingly every other aspect of the game. That makes him valuable to most teams… But the Houston Rockets?
Houston is tied to Philadelphia for a number of reasons. The 76ers are run by former Rockets GM Daryl Morey. The two franchises, reportedly, nearly swapped Simmons in a James Harden deal. Indications were that the demands of auxiliary players and picks were where the Sixers fell through.
But could Ben Simmons end up in Houston now?
The Potential Deal
Reports indicate the biggest piece would have to be John Wall to match salaries. As we discussed last week, Wall’s gamedays in Houston are done. Philadelphia could be that new home that allows him to compete. He certainly shoots more, if not more and better, than Simmons ever has. He has put a lot of wear and tear on his body and has thus had to shift and alter his game. But at 31-years-old, Wall can contribute to a team with title aspirations. No, he isn’t the MVP candidate he was in 2017. But Wall is a scorer that punctures the defense. Sixers like Seth Curry, Matisse Thybull, and Tyrese Maxey would all benefit from him forcing a defense into rotation. Joel Embiid would have another aggressor to take some of the creation pressure off of his shoulders.
Simmons coming back to Houston, at 24, probably means the Rockets have to add some other players and/or draft capital to the deal. Sending Philly Wall limits their ability to build in the long term because it’s unrealistic Wall is around in the long term. The Houston Rockets have gotten a number of future draft picks in the last 12 months, and some of them may have to serve as sweeteners for this to work. The goal would be to send assets like the near future Brooklyn first-round picks and hold onto the later ones to the best of their ability
Similarly, Simmons coming to Houston shifts the focus off of 20-year-old Number Two pick Jalen Green and 27-year-old Christian Wood. It shifts the Rockets to a quicker rebuild because they weren’t going to play Wall, and now they can’t not play Simmons. Simmons would theoretically be a “four” in the lineup, with Wood moving into a Center position, and Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Jae’Sean Tate occupying the perimeter. Simmons’ positional versatility does a number of things and his switchability on defense pairs well with both Tate and Wood.
At face value, this looks like a win for the Houston Rockets. Pulling in an All-Defensive and All-Star player seems worth it, even if the ‘kets have to mortgage some of the future. Simmons is just 24; conceivably, he is the future.
The issue is that a successful team with Ben Simmons in a key role will need to mold itself around him. As a non-shooter, Simmons’s offense becomes entirely playmaking for others. That’s both doable and fine; teams with Simmons could surround him with shooting, space the floor, and let him find guys coming off of cross-court pin-downs or elevators up the middle. Simmons is a phenomenal passer that can find the shooters wherever the offense can open them up. But the Houston Rockets have invested in a different plan.
Houston is heavily invested in developing Kevin Porter Jr. following his growth last season. They’ve got him under the mentorship of John Lucas, Wall works with him, and, for much of last spring, Porter Jr. had the keys to the Houston backcourt.
Houston has also heavily invested in Porter Jr.’s backcourt running mate, Jalen Green. At the number two overall pick, Houston could’ve taken an explosive guard in Green or a versatile big in Mobley. It wasn’t that either saved the franchise on their own, but picking one of these projected generational rookies was choosing a direction.
Much like Porter Jr and Green, Simmons is a playmaker. He creates defensive shifts and punishes slow rotations by finding the open man. And bluntly, in the present tense, he does that better than Porter Jr. or Green do. But when you’ve invested in a young pair, they need to get reps doing it to reach their potential tomorrow morning. All three of these guys need to run the offense in the same way. And Houston’s already got two of them, and minutes, reps, and possessions are a finite resource.
For the Simmons swap to work, either he has to shift how he plays or Houston has to admit they’re diverting from the plan they spent a year on. Simmons orchestrating an offense can win a lot of games presently, but playing like that stunts the growth of both of the future ‘kets.
How Could it Work
Simmons in Houston, as a Draymond Green-esque power forward, or a small ball Giannis at the 5, could work. Ben Simmons shooting charts all look like a traditional big; he only shoots six feet and in, he refuses to get to the foul line because of his percentages, and he consistently passes out of open looks. But everything else? He’s elite at everything else. He’s a phenomenal passer, understands how to attack defenses, and a freight train in transition.
He and Wood would pair well for a Stephen Silas two-big offense, and he’d immediately become one of the most unique secondary and tertiary ball handlers of all time. Once the Rockets run a patented Stephen Silas double drag option, Simmons could orchestrate an entire secondary action from the short roll.
The other way this works is the money. Houston’s going to have trouble moving John Wall and his $91Million owed. If Simmons came to Houston and had a few good months? Flipping a 25-year-old with less than 4 years, $140Million (depending on when they flip him), if he’s still playing at an All-Star level, is easy. Simmons could be the latest star to use Houston as a pitstop. It worked for Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, and Chris Paul… even guys like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard found revitalized careers after Houston.
Ben Simmons won’t read this, but there’s something to be said about an All-Star that finds a new role in a new environment… theoretically, what better way to show your next employer that you’re willing to do whatever it takes?
And Ben, if you do, please come on a show below and let’s talk about it.