Well, it finally happened. James Harden has joined the Brooklyn Nets in a massive four-team trade. The Philadelphia 76ers were among the finalists but didn’t get the deal done. If they had pulled the trigger with a package centered around Ben Simmons, this would have been the best move they’ve made in a long time.
Simmons’ play style has handicapped Philadelphia for his entire career. His utter lack of a perimeter game has made it almost impossible for the Sixers to succeed despite his playmaking ability. In today’s NBA, you have to be able to shoot as a starting guard. Plain and simple.
The narrative that Simmons’ three-point shooting has been improving is completely untrue. This season, he is averaging career-lows in field goal percentage and points. If anything, he has regressed offensively.
Harden Is an Upgrade Over Simmons
Bringing in James Harden would have given the Philadelphia 76ers all the playmaking that Simmons gives them with the added bonus of superstar-level scoring and 36.3% career three-point shooting. Admittedly, they lose out on some defense, but that’s a small price to pay.
Plus, Harden isn’t nearly as useless on defense as many make him out to be. In the 2019-2020 NBA season, Ben Simmons averaged a league-leading 2.1 steals per game. Harden was fifth with 1.8 per game. It’s fair to point out that Harden is not at the level of 1st Team All-Defense, but the drop in defensive value isn’t quite as steep as it might seem. If they had added defensive specialist Matisse Thybulle, that certainly adds another wrinkle, but I honestly think Harden is worth it. He’s finished in the top three of MVP voting five of the last six years. That’s a guy you sell the farm for.
In my Philadelphia 76ers 2020-2021 season preview, every key storyline for this team essentially revolved around what they planned to do with Ben Simmons. Adding Harden absolutely increases the ceiling for this team. I don’t necessarily agree with the narrative that you can’t win with James Harden. His teams have gone to the Western Conference Finals twice in the past six seasons. In a loaded Western Conference, that’s a big accomplishment. Plus, it’s not his fault they ran into the all-time great Warriors team.
Ben Simmons Hasn’t Evolved
The Simmons-Embiid tandem has had four seasons to prove they belong among the elite duos in the league. They’ve never even made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. This has to be the last season for Philadelphia to give this duo a chance.
Granted, Harden did not leave the Houston Rockets quietly. I completely understand if there are Sixers fans out there who weren’t a fan of bringing him in. However, from a pure basketball standpoint, this is would have absolutely been an upgrade. The 76ers have been banking on Simmons’ evolution as a player for the last four years. It hasn’t happened.
To succeed in the NBA, you need to make blockbuster moves and bring in superstar players. Daryl Morey decided to stick with what he had, and I’m not sure that was the right move.
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