Philadelphia 76ers: De’Aaron Fox and Joel Embiid could form a dynamic duo

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

As you may or may not have heard, the Sacramento Kings are very interested in acquiring Philadelphia 76ers guard/forward Ben Simmons.

Now, in theory, this shouldn’t be particularly surprising. The Kings have consistently balked at procuring elite talent at the top of the NBA Draft and can only boast one homegrown All-Star caliber player since drafting DeMarcus Cousins in 2010.

With a head coach in Luke Walton with experience coaching supersized lead guards from his time in Los Angeles and a lack of any sort of deeply ingrained winning culture, it makes sense to take a shot at acquiring a three-time All-Star with a potentially limitless ceiling.

Will the package they proposed for Simmons actually get a deal done? No. As much as Buddy Hield has been linked to the Sixers for the past few years, he just isn’t good enough to headline a package of that magnitude, even with Marvin Bagley III and future first-round picks thrown in to seal the deal.

But how about De’Aaron Fox? While he wasn’t included in the initial trade offer, there isn’t another player on the Kings’ roster with enough gravitas to swing a potential deal.

De’Aaron Fox could split the difference for the Philadelphia 76ers.

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Imagine, if you will, a Sacramento Kings team with Ben Simmons and De’Aaron Fox sans Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton – the other player the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly have interest in – and Marvin Bagley. That team is not particularly good.

Assuming the team would fill out their starting lineup with Harrison Barns, Maurice Harkless, and a recently re-signed Richaun Holmes, the Kings’ offense would lack even mediocre spacing and would become painful to watch in the halfcourt.

Granted, they would be decent to pretty good defensively and would be able to outrun pretty much any team in the NBA, but this is basketball, not track; you win by scoring points, not running fast.

Even if acquiring Simmons gives Fox his best partner in crime of the post-Boogie era, the fit just isn’t there to win games in 2021.

Would it stink to let Fox go? Most definitely. In a way, Fox has become the Damien Lillard of Sacramento, in that he’s a proven star who has remained loyal to his team despite mediocre success. But in the pursuit of greatness, tough decisions can’t be made under the weight of sentimentality. Jrue Holiday was the most popular Sixer of his era, and he got shipped out of town with extreme prejudice by a savvy GM solely concerned with getting the most ping-pong balls in the lottery spinner.

Even in a perfect scenario, it’s hard to imagine Fox and Simmons hoisting a Larry O’Brien Trophy unless one or both completely revamp their offensive game.

But as for pairing Fox up with Joel Embiid? Well that, my friends, might be a different story.

Despite some pre-draft discussion over which member of the 2016-17 Kentucky Wildcats was the best prospect – a three-way fight between Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo – “SwipaTheFox” has far and away proven himself to be the best player at the NBA level. As his nickname would suggest, Fox is a crafty ball handler, an effective cutter, and a student of the game with his eye constantly on the lookout for open teammates. Though he’s not the best three-point shooter around, hitting an average of 32.6 percent of his shots, Fox at least attempted 5.5 per game in 2020-21 and had 47 games with at least one made last season versus only three for Simmons. With some continued work on his shot, there’s little reason to believe Fox couldn’t be a 50-35-80 guy once he hits his prime, which could come as soon as this season.

You wanna know the easiest way to make a 23-year old point guard’s life a lot easier? Pair him up with the best two-way point guard in the NBA.

Now, to be fair, Fox is not a perfect player. He isn’t a limitless volume shooter like DollaDame and doesn’t project as anything more than an average perimeter defender, but in a world where the Sixers had to play 5-on-4 versus the Atlanta Hawks in the waiting moments of must-win playoff contests, having a point guard who took the 12th most shots per game league-wide in the final four seconds of the game would be an asset alongside Embiid, who attempted the 10th most shots in that same timeframe.

Placing Fox in a starting five alongside Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, and either Danny Green or Matisse Thybulle, depending on how free agency shakes out, and the Sixers’ offense becomes a whole lot more dynamic without losing the fast-break offense that Simmons has made a living on, or his productivity as a passing lane disruptor. If Thybulle can develop into the second coming off Robert Covington, aka a point-of-attack defender capable of matching up against opposing ball handlers 1-4, Fox could prove a solid enough defender against opposing guard and forwards alike, where his speed, hops, and 6-foot-6.5 inch wingspan could prove a plus asset situationally.

Really, the only thing Fox can’t do as well as Simmons – minus being a positionless defender – is rebound, but when you already have a handful of solid defensive guards, adding an additional 10.9 points and 2.2 made free throws is worth 3.7 rebounds and a little extra creativity on the defensive end of the court.

Remember, Doc Rivers is a former point guard and a defensive specialist. I’m sure he can figure out a way to get the most out of Fox on defense while reaping the benefits of his offensive efforts.

And as for the Kings? Well, they’d be getting a similar player to Fox in Simmons, plus the ability to keep virtually all of their other current players and highly-valued assets. Give Simmons a player like Hield to be his primary outlet pass beneficiary and the ability to further form the roster around his unique style of play, and there’s a chance the Kings could be back in the playoffs in the not too distant future, which isn’t a scenario that can happen in Philly because of Embiid’s particular style of play.

Even if Fox is technically faster than Simmons, his ability to remain effective in the halfcourt and actually dominate with an elite high court pick-and-roll partner could create a dominantly dynamic offensive attack that simply wasn’t available to the Sixers in 2020-21 because of Simmons’ lack of a shot outside of the paint.

Remember, you can’t crowd the paint to take away Fox’s drives with Embiid already there. Having those two as a one-two punch would benefit every player on the team regardless of their unique set of skills.

Damian Lillard or bust?. dark. Next

Ultimately, many a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers will consider any trade involving Ben Simmons that doesn’t return either Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal a failure, and for good reason. After effectively wasting the last two seasons of Joel Embiid’s career without a viable 1B to complement his talents, landing another potential MVP candidate is the easiest way to take this thing up a notch and become a complete championship contender for years to come. But if those players don’t become available, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to land an uber-talented 23-year-old like De’Aaron Fox in the hopes of unlocking his ceiling paired up with a superstar center who wants nothing more than to spend the bulk of his time posted up in the paint.