We all know that Ben Simmons no longer wants to play for the Philadelphia 76ers by now, and fans of various bottom-dwelling teams continue to salivate over the idea of the 6-foot-11 point guard joining their squad.
For Minnesota Timberwolves fans, Simmons would immediately bring to the team what it lacks the most: Defense.
Regardless of what you may think of him from an offensive standpoint, Simmons is one of the league’s best defenders. He finished second in voting for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award just last season. It’s completely understandable to want your team’s front office to find a way to pry a defensive juggernaut like Simmons away from one of the league’s better teams, especially with his trade value being drastically diminished by his soon-to-be former teammate and head coach over the last few months.
However, I’m here to fight against this seemingly sinful desire to acquire the LSU product (please do not check my header on Twitter as you will find it to be a photoshopped picture of Benjamin David Simmons in a Wolves jersey). As of this writing, fans of the Timberwolves are begging for the team’s front office to trade for Simmons in the same way that many of us pleaded for our moms to stop by McDonald’s on the way home as children.
The only differences now are that we want a nearly 7-foot tall basketball player who has a decorated list of achievements instead of chicken nuggets, despite being in the league for just a few seasons. And instead of it being our mother, who we are harassing, it’s now new Timberwolves president of basketball operations, Sachin Gupta.
And with that, I am here to give a similar answer to these trade cries as our mothers did way back when: We have Simmons at home. And his name is Jarred Vanderbilt.
Yes, I said it. We have (value brand) Ben Simmons currently on this roster. Thinking back to the roller coaster ride that was the 2020-21 season, I distinctly remember watching a game against the Houston Rockets. One of the commentators spoke of a time when ESPN’s Seth Greenberg stated that Vando reminds him of Simmons.
“He reminds me a little bit of Ben Simmons in terms of his court vision and ability to pass,” he said. “He’s a point forward.” Now obviously, if we see “Point-Vando” running the offense, SOMEBODY has to step in and give Chris Finch a psychiatric examination to ensure his mental stability. But Greenberg was correct, although not in the way in which he intended.
They are very similar, but not because of their abilities on offense (although Vando does have an above-average passing ability for the position he plays), but rather their defense. Last year was technically Vanderbilt’s third season in the NBA, although he only played for a combined 28 games throughout his first two seasons. While playing in a total of 64 games throughout the 2020-21 season, the Kentucky product ranked fourth in defensive impact and versatility (i.e., the “LeBron” stat) with a rating of 5.9 behind only the following:
- Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (7.1)
- Former First Team All-Defensive member Robert Covington (6.4)
- Defensive Player of the Year runner-up BEN F’ING SIMMONS (6.1)
This demonstrates that Vanderbilt is already showing signs of becoming one of the better defensive bigs in the league. It’s no longer a secret what Vando brings to the table. He possesses a high motor which helps create havoc due to his ability to deflect passes and defend multiple positions. We’ve all heard this numerous times. But look at his defensive percentiles via @WolvesClips on Twitter (An amazing follow, by the way)!
Per 75 possessions, Vanderbilt averaged:
- 3.4 deflections (92nd percentile among bigs)
- 2.0 steals (97th percentile among bigs)
- 1.4 blocks (67th percentile among bigs)
* Chef’s kiss*
The potential has always been there for Vando. ESPN ranked 19th in his class ahead of rising NBA stars such as Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. (I completely understand that high school rankings do not always go on to showcase how successful a player will be once they make it to the league, or even if they make it to the league). But due to numerous injuries, many have already forgotten what JV’s ceiling was coming into his freshman season at Kentucky.
With the continuity of playing under Finch, there is still an immense amount of latent potential to be tapped into for him to be a solid rim-runner. Let us all pray V8’s ability to catch the ball on the roll after setting a screen has improved. And his elite defense who would fit soundly next to Karl-Anthony Towns.
Let’s be clear here, Vanderbilt is not the deciding factor for whether or not the Timberwolves can exceed expectations by the rest of the league. If he were forecasted to be Simmons 2.0, he would not be a fringe starter/guy off the bench for a team that finished 13th in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. And remember, those two teams had their eyes set on getting the first overall pick in this past summer’s draft.
I’m not going to sit here and say that if I had the choice, I would rather have Vanderbilt on this team than Simmons because that would be a complete and utter lie. But Simmons would not have the same role here in Minnesota that he has had over the past few seasons while in Philadelphia.
This team has plenty of guards who can create with the ball in their hands. Simmons’ primary role would almost certainly be to play stellar defense while primarily sitting in the dunker’s spot on offense (although not allowing a Simmons-Towns pick-and-roll would be an absolute tragedy on Finch’s part).
With the needed assets going out the door to acquire a player of Ben’s stature, would it be worth it without first seeing what this team can do at full strength? And with the amount of talent and depth that this team demonstrated during Monday night’s preseason win against New Orleans, there is currently enough for me to believe that this team, as presently constructed, is enough to fight for a play-in spot if everyone can stay relatively healthy.
In my opinion, Vanderbilt will be sufficient as a strong-side defender who can play the role of the dunker on offense for a team in the hunt for a playoff/play-in spot this season. And if I’m wrong, why not continue to beg for those chicken nuggets — I mean Simmons? But can we AT LEAST agree that Jarred needs more appreciation for his Instagram fits?! (Looking at you @LeagueFits).