Philadelphia 76ers: Trae Young is the ideal Ben Simmons trade target

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Forget D-Lo, the only player the Philadelphia 76ers should even consider trading Ben Simmons for is Trae Young, even if it will never happen.

As much as I hate to admit it, the Philadelphia 76ers may be rapidly approaching an impasse.

I know, I know, a lot has been said about how ‘this team doesn’t work’, ‘Al Horford was a waste of money’ or that ‘Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid don’t fit’, but at some point, when there’s smoke there’s fire.

I mean, when NBC Sports’ basketball insider Tom Haberstroh starts talking about a potential rift between Simmons’ camp and the shared camps of Embiid and Brett Brown, we very well may be another Eastern Conference Semifinals loss away from Elton Brand breaking this team up once and for all to rebuild around one of the team’s two young, generational stars.

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That will probably be Joel Embiid.

It has to be, right? Embiid is the biggest personality this city has seen since… Charles Barkley? Wilt Chamberlin? Ever? He also has a higher ceiling as a pro, even if it’s totally possible both players end up borderline Hall of Famers.

Embiid also doesn’t, ya know, ignore his coach’s requests to take a shot a game from the 3 point line, a factor that must be maddening for a coach tasked with meshing two very, very different players onto one team expected to contend for the title year-in and year-out.

But just because Embiid is the best center of his generation doesn’t mean Simmons is a slouch – far from it. If a team was built around Simmons a la Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Milwaukee Bucks, he too could grow into a legit MVP candidate, even if it’s borderline irresponsible to imagine the 6-foot-10 point guard hitting every 3 at even The Greak Freak’s 28.6 career average from beyond the line.

So needless to say, if you’re going to flip a player of that magnitude to another squad, you’d better get something of serious value back – and no, I’m not talking about D’Angelo Russell (who I like by the way).

No, for my money, if the Sixers were going to trade Simmons for a better fit – probably a point guard to pair with Embiid – there’s only one player who makes sense for all parties involved: Trae Young.

*Disclaimer* I’m not a GM and I really don’t want to get too into the makeup of a potential trade, more so how Young would fit in Coach Brown’s offense over Simmons. Could the Sixers potentially net Young and a player like Kevin Huerter for Simmons? How about shipping Horford back home for a young, Chris Bosh-esque forward like John Collins? Could Philly-born Cam Reddish be on the table? Guessing realistic trade value is pretty much impossible – who would have predicted the Tobias Harris deal last year? – but imagining a fit isn’t.

But first, why would the two parties get a deal done?

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, the Atlanta Hawks are kind of a mess at the moment. Young is playing like an All-Star but his supporting cast is maybe the worst in the league – so much so that they’ve entertained trading for Andre Drummond to give their 21-year-old point guard a pick-and-roll partner.

While subbing out a young face of the franchise for any player can be a tough pill to swallow based on jersey sales alone, you’d be hard-pressed to find a talent evaluator who prefers Young over Simmons as a piece to build a franchise around. With a ton of cap room and a head coach who has been with Simmons before in Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks could cash in a flashy offensive dynamo for a player truly worthy of putting butts in seats on a long-term playoff team.

And as for the Sixers? Oh boy, could you even imagine?

First off the obvious: Trae Young is really good at shooting. Dubbed the second coming of Steph Curry due to his size, skill set, and ability to heave it up from anywhere on the court, Young took the basketball world by storm over his lone season at Oklahoma – transforming from 20th ranked college recruit in the 2017 class to the fifth player selected in the 2018 NBA Draft.

With Young at the helm of an offense, you are guaranteed spacing for a young 7-foot center with unlimited potential under the basket. Speaking of centers, the Sixers would also conceivably be pairing the best under-30 picker with the NBA’s best roll man – crafting the deadliest pick and roll one-two punch in the league.

If that was all Young brought to the table – volume shooting from all three levels – the fit would be pretty obvious, but there’s an aspect to the 6-foot-1 point guard’s game that is seldom mentioned outside of true film heads: Trae Young is a fantastic passer.

A Steve Nash superfan as a ‘Young-ster‘, Young is just as interested in getting his teammates a good look as he is in securing his own, as evidenced by 8.2 assists per game in 32.2 minutes of action a night.

With a few more years to put it all together, it feels like a forgone conclusion that Young will eventually average a points/assists double-double over a full season, maybe multiple if paired up with the right supporting cast.

To put it simply, the games of Young and Embiid perfectly complement each other in the best way possible.

Really, the only aspect of Young’s game that isn’t an obvious fit in Brown’s scheme is his defense, but compared to running an offense for 28 minutes a night without a point guard who can’t shoot, some schematic adjustments should feel like a walk in the park.

According to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, Young is one of the rare players who leads his position in positive offensive RPM at an insane 4.44, but also finishes with the third-worst defensive RPM with an almost-as-insane -3.46. For those without a calculator, that still leaves Young with a positive .98 RPM, tied for the 26th highest mark of any point guard in the league, but that sort of defensive deficiency can be exploited over a seven-game series.

Fortunately, the Sixers are absolutely loaded with defenders who can ease that load.

If Young were to insert into the one of the Sixers’ starting lineup unchanged, Brown could deploy Josh Richardson – an above-average on-ball defender – on an opposing team’s best guard and hide Trae a la J.J. Redick before him. The same could be said throughout the game, as Young brings enough firepower to comfortably pair him up with defensive-minded wings like Matisse Thybulle, James Ennis, and even seldom-used sophomore Zhaire Smith.

What do you know, trading for Young could give Zhaire Smith a role? Could you even imagine?

There’s really only one problem with a Trae Young for Ben Simmons trade: It won’t happen.

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For as much as I’d love to see a major shakeup to the Sixers’ roster before the February trade deadline, there’s a way higher percentage any blockbuster trade Elton Brand pulls off would involve Al Horford (possibly for Chris Paul) as opposed to shipping out Ben Simmons before his max extension even kicks in. But still, if this season collapses in the second round – or *gasp* before it – and Philly fans are left with even more egg on their face, the Philadelphia 76ers may have to admit once and for all that their roster, as presently constructed, just isn’t built to win an NBA Championship. If that day comes, a Trae Young trade makes sense for all parties involved.