Gonzo: Ben Simmons was easy part for Sixers, rest is tricky


There wasn’t any drama to start the draft. That came later.
On Thursday evening, NBA commissioner Adam Silver strode to the podium and said a series of words that everyone knew he’d utter. With the first pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Ben Simmons. And with that, the hypothetical became reality. You don’t have to imagine Simmons as a Sixer any longer. He is one now. Just as almost everyone predicted.
It was always going to be Simmons. Despite real concerns about his shooting, Simmons is a good bet with high upside. He is 6-10, 240 pounds and he’s worked hard since his only year at LSU ended to add serious muscle to a body that was already NBA-ready. He is a fantastic rebounder. He has a good handle. He’s quick and big enough that he’ll be able to defend multiple positions as a pro — a huge plus in the increasingly switch-everything NBA. And his much-trumpeted court vision and passing are every bit as amazing as you’ve heard. Even if he never becomes a good outside shooter, he’s still going to be terrific. And if he adds an outside shot, he’ll be special — a top-tier player in a league that demands you have at least one of those to be relevant and more than one to be a contender.
The last part of that last sentence is where it gets tricky for the Sixers. Actually, that’s where it stays tricky for the Sixers, because it’s been tricky for them for a while now. Taking Simmons was obvious. It was the easy part. Now they have to continue working on the puzzle they’ve been trying to solve for the last few years. They need more than just Simmons, of course. A lot more. That’s part of the concern — which pieces to add and which to offload.
If you followed the trade rumors as the draft unfolded, the first report had the Sixers sending Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington, and the 24th and 26th picks to Boston for the third pick. In that scenario, the Sixers would have ostensibly taken Kris Dunn. The Celtics had other ideas. They passed on the Sixers’ reportedly generous offer and selected Jaylen Brown instead. Man, the Sixers really seemed to covet Dunn. The next report had the Sixers offering the same deal to the Timberwolves for the fifth pick. Dunn was still available. Like Boston, Minnesota passed and took Dunn for itself.
That’s good news for the Sixers. Dunn is going to be a really good player. In a vacuum, wanting to add him made sense. Wanting to add him for Noel straight up made less sense. Wanting to add him for Noel and Covington made even less sense than that. Noel, Covington, 24 and 26 made no sense. By standing pat, the Sixers used 24 to grab Timothe Luwawu and 26 to take Furkan Korkmaz — two international prospects I like quite a bit (though they will take time to develop).
As Bryan Colangelo admitted after the draft, it’s no secret the Sixers are “a little top heavy” and were interested in balancing the roster. But he insisted that the preponderance of trade rumors didn’t come from the Sixers and he called many of them “false.”
Yes, the Sixers desperately need to unclog that frontcourt – now bloated with Noel, Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and possibly Dario Saric. That still needs to happen. But doing so at the expense of one of their most versatile players/defenders, plus Covington, for a guy who was a 35.4 percent shooter from three in college (37.2 percent last season), and might have been a questionable fit alongside Simmons — whose best skill is distributing — was too much.
The other problem, had the Sixers made that trade: They’d still have Okafor on the roster. Even with Noel gone in the hypothetical scenario, Okafor would have remained an awkward fit for the Sixers as they try to incorporate Simmons and Embiid into the fold. You can’t play them at the same time, and staggering them with Okafor off the bench means jeopardizing your defense when you do. In an ideal world, Okafor is the guy to move. He’s not a great rebounder. He’s a defensive liability. And, offensively, he’s a ball movement killer who often takes too long to get into his various post-up moves.
I can hear the objections of the pro-Okafor crowd as I type this. He’s a 20-10 guy. He’s not. You have to be a better rebounder to do that. He’s only 19 years old. He’s not. He’s 20, and he’ll be 21 in December. Also, his age is incidental to his skill set and what he projects to be in the modern NBA. Noel doesn’t score. Maybe, but he does pretty much everything else better than Okafor — and, besides, with this Sixers team they wouldn’t need Noel to be a significant offensive threat. They’d need him to defend multiple positions, pass well, rebound and protect the rim, all of which he does better than Okafor. He also runs the floor better. Given the other ways he can impact the game, getting up and down the floor, catching lobs, and not slowing down the offense would be just fine.
The potential trade rumors — what appeared to be the Sixers' haste to move one of their bigs right now rather than find the right deal as time permits — remain worrisome even while Colangelo keeps repeating that the Sixers didn’t want to make a “bad deal.” Before the draft even began, Draft Express reported the Sixers were engaged in trade talks with the Pacers and Hawks “until the very last minute.” Instead, the Hawks moved Jeff Teague in a three-team deal that shipped him to Indiana, George Hill to Utah and the No. 12 pick to Atlanta. So, basically, the Hawks turned Teague into 12th pick. That right there is yet another reason why swapping Noel for Teague was a bad idea when it was first rumored a few weeks back, and it was further evidence that the Sixers must be prudent when they inevitably unclog their frontcourt. This is a dangerous time for the Sixers.
“We have a decision to make,” Colangelo allowed. “But we were not prepared to make those decisions [Thursday] night.”
That’s a good thing. A smart thing.

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