Philadelphia 76ers: D’Angelo Russell isn’t worth a second thought

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

*sigh* Another day, another Ben Simmons trade rumor; it would be annoying if it wasn’t so gosh darn fun to talk about.

In a recent podcast appearance, SKOR North reporter Darren Wolfson described a conversation with a source about whether the Minnesota Timberwolves were interested in trading for Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, to which he received a single word response.

The word? “Badly.”

Assuming Wolfson’s source is sound, this is both a bit surprising and all too predictable. The T-Wolves have been bad for a while now but lack the sort of draft assets needed to take a step forward after trading their first and second-round picks to the Golden State Warriors as part of the D’Angelo Russell-Andrew Wiggins trade last February. Landing an All-Star-level talent like Simmons would go a long way to returning the franchise recently purchased by Alex Rodriguez’s group to legitimacy and could produce encouraging results on the court if Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards are made untouchable in trade conversations.

If that happens, the only real options general manager Gersson Rosas would realistically be able to package together in a trade for Simmons are some combination of Russell, Malik Beasley, Naz Reid, Jarrett Culver, and a collection of draft picks and young players to help make the situation work.

In theory, is there a package worth considering there? Sure, Daryl Morey is too good at his job to not at least consider any offer that passes across his desk, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best offer on the market or one worthy of actually accepting.

Why? Because D’Angelo Russell only fits the bill as a second star contractually, as opposed to where it actually matters (on the court).

The Philadelphia 76ers have to avoid trading a dollar for three quarters.

More from Section 215

I’d like to start this off by prefacing that I’m what you would call a D’Angelo Russell apologist. I wanted desperately for the Philadelphia 76ers to land him in the 2015 NBA Draft – an outcome I wasn’t alone in rooting for – and was genuinely happy for his development in Brooklyn after a not-so-smooth tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Why am I wasting a paragraph telling you this, oh dear reader? Because even I, a certified DLo apologist, thinks his addition to the Sixers’ roster in 2021 would be a mistake if it comes at the expense of Ben Simmons.

Now granted, would I take Russell as a third star alongside Ben Simmons? Most definitely. Simmons, Russell, and Joel Embiid all attended Montverde Academy in Florida for a time during their respective high school careers, and the former two actually brought back-to-back championship gold to the Eagles in 2013 and 2014. While Russell *spoiler alert* isn’t the sort of player who can shoulder an expansive offensive role in the fourth quarter of games without things getting ugly, he is a better scheme fit as Philly’s third-star over Tobias Harris, who proved to be an increasingly poor fit next to Simmons int he post-Jimmy Butler-era.

But we aren’t talking about a trade that should ship Harris to Minneapolis for Russell straight up. We’re talking about sending a three-time All-Star with four years left under team control to a rebuilding team for a guard who couldn’t get his team past 23 wins and lost 64 percent of the contests he appeared in.

That isn’t a particularly advantageous offering, even if it’s padded out by a 24-year-old sharpshooter on a relatively team-friendly contract, a failed top-10 pick, and some future draft compensation that could be fairly valuable if things don’t work out in Minnesota.

You see, Russell is not what one would call a model of efficiency. He ranked 86th overall in player efficiency according to John Hollinger’s advanced NBA Player Statistics and just barely broke even in the Real Plus-Minus department thanks to having carte blanche to take north of 16 shots a game for a squad with little interest in playing defense.

But wait, it gets worse. Despite playing alongside 14 other players during his 42 games of action with the Wolves in 2020-21, Russell only recorded a positive plus-minute rating (26) alongside one of his teammates, Karl-Anthony Towns.

Just for context, Simmons and Embiid led the Sixers in two-man plus-minus with a +393, which signified just how good the duo were at both ends of the court.

While Russell does provide more value than Simmons on the offensive end of the court and could have his defensive limitations masked by playing alongside players like Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, and a re-signed Danny Green – as the Sixers wouldn’t have to trade any of those players to get a deal done – he simply isn’t the sort of do-it-all offensive weapon who can pick up points in bunches and form an elite two-man game alongside Embiid.

In 2020-21, Russell shot 43.1 percent from the field, 38.7 percent from beyond the arc, and 76.5 percent from the free-throw line on 149 attempts. While none of those numbers are particularly bad, they’re just slightly above the league average and don’t quite live up to the four-year, $117 million contract he signed back in 2019.

Is that what the Sixers really want the crown jewel of their process to fetch? An above-average one-way player who has never averaged more than 23.1 over a full season on a bloated contract? Collin Sexton is reportedly available, and he’s three years younger, a whole lot cheaper, and actually averaged 5.3 more points per game last season. Even if you throw in the better role players the TImberwolves have to offer, that isn’t suddenly making the Sixers a contender, just Minnesota East with Embiid and Harris filling the roles of KAT and Edwards.

Next. The flaw in a Ben Simmons “Godfather” trade offer. dark

For all of his warts, Ben Simmons is an elite defender, rebounder, passer, and pickpocket. He’s been described as the best player NBA if there wasn’t a basket by PFT Commenter, and honestly, I’ve never heard a more apt metaphor for what “The Downunder Wonder” brings to the table. For all of the things D’Angelo Russell does well, he doesn’t do anything at an elite level, and at 25-years-old, it’s unlikely that that will change any time soon. Assuming Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey don’t see something in the former Ohio State Buckeye that has yet to materialize at the NBA level or have a particular affinity for a player like Malik Beasley or Naz Reid, the Philadelphia 76ers can likely do better than anything the Minnesota Timberwolves are willing to surrender for Simmons’ services, no matter how “badly” they want him.