Let's talk about passed-up layups.
The scene has been set, explored, revisited, psychoanalyzed. You
name it, it's been done.
Ben done, if you will.
Ben Simmons, in a high-pressure situation against the Atlanta
Hawks, had a layup opportunity. Instead of taking it, he dished the
ball off to Matisse Thybulle, who would eventually earn a trip to
the free-throw line. It was an inexplicable choice by a player as
talented — and even more simply, as large and open — as Simmons,
but it was just that. An inexplicable choice.
But it's a choice that began (or accelerated, depending on your
priors with Simmons) the downward spiral of his status as a
star-caliber player. It set the stage for the mess we've had the
(dis)pleasure of reading about for months.
The Philadelphia 76ers lost the series to the upstart Hawks. Doc
Rivers said things that he later said he didn't say. Simmons didn't
take too kindly to it.
Simmons asked out. The Sixers made it clear they would only move
him for a bounty. Teams weren't — and, as of this writing, still
aren't — willing to give up said-bounty.
Simmons didn't report to training camp, and was fined. The fines
stopped once Simmons did report, but before expressing his bout
with mental health issues. The mental health element permeating
throughout the entire ordeal is a sensitive one — one that has made
me incredibly uncomfortable to see dissected and speculated about
in real time.
Meanwhile, the Hawks are in their own sort of spiral.
Their playoff run ended with a loss to the eventual NBA champion
Milwaukee Bucks, but things were looking upward.
Trae Young (further, officially) announced himself to the world
as a bona fide star. His supporting cast, highlighted by John
Collins, Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic, proved to be impactful
in its own right. Skilled. Versatile.
It was hard not to be excited by this Hawks team. Star talent,
strong coaching, a deep roster.
Whew, buddy, is this a deep roster!
Whew, buddy... this is... a deep roster.
So deep, in fact, that head coach Nate McMillan mentioned during
Media Day we'd see some all-bench units in an effort to spread the
Those lineups haven't done very well.
The Hawks have dealt with lineup questions, a lack of "oomph"
defensively (27th in defensive rating), an adjustment period to
let-'em-play officiating, a who-gets-to-the-rim-besides-Trae
problem, a tough opening schedule and a stronger conference
They are currently the losers of five straight, tied with the
Hornets for the longest skid in the conference. Words like
"sacrifice" and "boredom" have been uttered; that ain't what you
want to hear less than a month into a new season.
I have a theory. A question, really: What if the Hawks are
passing up a layup of their own?
What if the Sixers and Hawks have the answer to each other's
Why haven't we explored the possibility of Simmons as a
On the Sixers' side, they haven't missed Simmons too
much. They're 8-4, sporting a top-five offense and defense in
the half-court, per Cleaning The Glass. A COVID outbreak has Joel
Embiid and Tobias Harris out of the lineup, so a slide wouldn't
come as a surprise. But when upright, this team has been
You can thank The Others™ for that. Seth Curry is the best
shooter in the league right now. Tyrese Maxey has taken a step as a
shot-creator. The bench, headlined by Andre Drummond and Georges
Niang, has been stellar.
This is where they stand while getting zero production from
Simmons' roster spot; one would think that replacing that spot with
someone who actually wants to play there would be a positive.
And for the Hawks, Simmons could solve a bit of their squad's
Young is averaging 20.8 drives per game, and is taking 9.2 shots
via drives per NBA.com tracking data.
Bogdanovic is second on the team in drives... at 6.8. Simmons has
averaged north of 10 in all but one season of his career; he
averaged 9.9 during the 2018-19 campaign, operating in a phone
booth while splitting ball-handling duties with Jimmy Butler.
Simmons, despite his own self-creation limits, is an elite
creator of offense for others. From 2018 to 2021, only Russell
Westbrook (747) has assisted on more three-pointers (694) than
Simmons. Young ranks No. 6 in that time frame with 650 helpers.
That drive-and-kick dynamic would be a nice complement to Young,
who leads NBA in rim-assists (947) during that stretch.
It's fun to imagine a Young-Simmons pick-and-roll tandem.
Simmons has the finishing and playmaking chops to be a devastating
short-roll guy. On one hand, he's never had a ball-handler as
dynamic as Young to set him up. On the other, he hasn't
consistently screened hard enough to maximize his opportunities as
As the Hawks have seemingly leaned into more switching this
season, is there a better fit for that kind of scheme than Simmons?
Having Simmons in the frontcourt could open up a world of
grab-and-go sequences that can't be replicated by anyone else in
(Well, there's rookster Jalen Johnson, but he isn't on the main
roster right now, much less in the big-boy rotation.)
And to that point: the Hawks are 19th in transition frequency
this year after ranking 20th the season before.
The Sixers have ranked seventh, eighth, 15th (the Al Horford
season) and fifth in transition frequency over the past four
seasons, mostly off the strength of Simmons pushing the
There are half-court questions to be had, dependent on lineups.
What would a potential Simmons-Collins-Capela frontcourt look like,
especially when Simmons isn't involved in ball-screens?
Luckily, Simmons has experience navigating tight quarters. He's
had to operate around the dunker spot (subscribe!) when necessary. He's also
adept at making slot cuts from the perimeter if defenders cheat off
Of course, that's making the assumption that all three would
If the Hawks are intent on switching as much as they have been
this season, they could opt to start Simmons and Collins up front
and really lean into that style. If Capela — off to a slow start on
both ends this year — becomes the odd man out entirely, there are
teams (DAL, CHA, BKN, TOR) that make sense as suitors when he's
trade-eligible this offseason.
The real question is one I admittedly don't have a great answer
to, that question is: What would the Sixers want from the
Aside from the optics of trading with the team that just beat
you in the postseason, it would take some creativity from Atlanta's
side to appease Daryl Morey. The good news is the Hawks have the
salary and pieces necessary to put together intriguing
Even if we were to work under the assumption that Young and
Collins are off the table, the Hawks have three young pieces
(De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Onyeka Okongwu) who could
potentially serve as a headliner, mid-to-high salary vets that
could bolster Philadelphia's rotation and most of their future picks
An example — example, people! — of something that works
- Hawks get: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton
- Sixers get: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Cam Reddish, Delon Wright, Jalen
Just eye-balling it, I'd imagine the Sixers would want more in
terms of draft capital. They might push for Okongwu over Johnson if
they'd prefer a young big in the pipeline behind Embiid. Have your
own fun with the trade machine if you must.
The important thing here is that there's a conversation to be
had between the two sides.
Simmons and the Sixers are primed for a divorce. The Hawks are
primed for a consolidation deal. It's at least worth exploring if
these two can make magic.