Ben Simmons 2

With the Sixers officially done half of their regular season schedule, it is time for another mailbag. You guessed it — there are Ben Simmons questions with approximately a month remaining before the deadline. Besides that, we talk about fans booing and Tyrese Maxey’s potential.

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I could see them making a small upgrade with the supporting cast if there’s no Simmons trade. A marginal move more or less gives the team a different flavor, the fans something to have interest in, and communicates that at least some effort was made to improve the team heading into the playoffs instead of hanging a banner that effectively says, “This is what we are, live with it”. 

But just as it was this past offseason and has been all season to date, I don’t see how the philosophy on non-Simmons activity is going to change while he’s on the roster. The Sixers have certainly communicated a steadfast position that they will not trade him for anything less than a star. Embiid’s comments following Friday’s win over the Celtics aligns with reports that all of the pillars of power within the franchise are on the same page as Daryl Morey.

Unless that satisfactory star becomes available and the Simmons trade happens, I think you’re likely to see a holding pattern. It doesn’t make sense to ship off potential assets in other trades before a Simmons deal happens. You want to have all weapons at your disposal to sweeten a Simmons deal if one of the coveted star guards becomes available. Alternatively, if there’s a three-team deal or even a secondary deal to be made after a primary deal, you want to have all tools available to make it happen.

My understanding from talking to people familiar with the relationship is that they do not. But, there’s an important distinction to be made. That doesn’t mean they do not like each other. Rather, they’re co-workers. But, not all co-workers have personal chemistry. So when they leave the office for the day, they go about their regular lives. And people don’t typically go out of their ways to communicate or spend time with those with whom they lack personal chemistry. You just don’t think about it because you go about doing things with your family or friends, or you do things you like to do in your free time.

Sources say Simmons made efforts to facilitate team activities on the road in seasons past. Embiid just preferred relaxing in his room. Simmons is the extrovert, despite how quiet he seems in front of the camera. Embiid, while previously a troll on social media and a comedian on camera, is more the introvert when he steps off the court. They’re just different people. 

This isn’t reporting, but I don’t think it’s coincidental that Embiid has taken his role as a leader more seriously this season. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but perhaps Embiid feels some responsibility for not having an impenetrable relationship with Simmons and the partnership devolving to its current state. So maybe that’s part of the motivation for him making an effort to be more of a leader both on and off the court this season. 

I don’t think it’s either, to be honest. The job of a general manager is to win every trade at the margins. Teams are watching the Sixers struggle where Simmons would’ve normally filled gaps and they’re watching them sit at the 5-seed in the East while Embiid re-establishes himself in the MVP conversation. The prospect of wasting an Embiid season with another early playoff exit because of the weaknesses that Simmons’ absence exposes is an asset to rival teams. So, the bargaining chip for convincing Morey to sell low on the All-Star is that the return on a Simmons package could raise this current team’s floor. But that shouldn’t attract an intelligent, disciplined front office.

Simmons, at worst, is a floor-raiser for any team that acquires him. Beyond that, he’s 25 years old. The market for a 25-year-old multi-time All-Star is always going to be a max contract. So, that shouldn’t discourage an intelligent team. Teams want Simmons. That is evidenced by the endless supply of teams rumored to be involved in trade discussions. Although, your guess is as good as mine as to how much of that is noise for the sake of posturing. But, they also want to fleece the Sixers. And in situations where the star is holding out, opposing management groups smell blood in the water because it theoretically makes it easier to fleece the team trading the star.

When a team feels they can make a run, picks they acquire on the margins are often regarded as asset to be used in bigger trades later. I was told the Hawks remain very interested in acquiring Simmons. I believe Brian Windhorst confirmed that on a Twitter Spaces session last night. Sources say that Simmons would welcome a trade to Atlanta. From what I can gather, John Collins would be part of the framework returning to Philly. Acquiring Collins implies that Tobias Harris would likely be on the move elsewhere, as well.

Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid should be your starters. That lineup outscores opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions, which is very good. I do think there’s something to be gained from staggering Maxey with the second unit. I would then allow Shake Milton to run extended minutes (to spell Maxey) when the starters check back in.

Steph is the better player. My hot take is that Seth is the better stand-still shooter. Although, that isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison because Seth will think six times before attempting anything that isn’t a rhythm jumper. Meanwhile, Steph gets maybe 1-2 standstill looks per game.

Don’t want to alienate my readers, but I’m pretty anti-‘boo’ when it comes to the proverbial good guys unless it’s directed at the overall team’s poor performance. I just don’t think it yields anything positive, and only makes things worse for the player at whom it’s directed. Don’t get me started about when people on Twitter use players performing better in the game after being booed or trending online as a response that validates their actions.

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From Chris: “What do you see Maxey’s max potential as? Maybe a player comp, what players around him would be ideal, can he be at his peak here, etc

Maxey, for all of his up-and-down usage and games missed, has kept this team afloat at various points throughout the season. Perhaps I’m a prisoner of what has happened lately. But, I don’t think there’s much of an argument against him being the team’s second best player at this point in time. 

As for his potential, I think there’s a strong chance of stardom in his future. I don’t know that he’ll be a 10-time participant. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if he collects a handful of such accolades in his career. The most encouraging indicator, besides the improvement on his jumper over his rookie campaign, is his proficiency as a driver. Maxey leads all sophomores in field goal percentage on drives and field goal attempts on drives.

As a rookie, he finished second — behind Tyrese Haliburton — in field goal percentage on drives. The reason that drives, specifically, are a barometer of star potential is that recent history suggests that rookie’s who grow as drivers have All-Star appearances in their futures. He still has ways to go on defense, but the buy-in and effort is there. And that’s half the battle on defense. You’ve even seen him start to anticipate plays better and function as a helper more consistently. So, he’s figuring it out. 

I think people love to go to Tony Parker as his twin copy. But Parker was never the three-point shooter to which Maxey has already grown. Right now, I’m leaning towards Jamal Murray as the prototype. Bradley Beal might be the ceiling. Although, Murray is the more prolific three-point shooter, even if the consistency isn’t there. As small as Maxey can appear at times, Beal only has an inch of height on him. Both are extremely crafty around the rim and are capable of creating separation for self-provisioned jumpers. Maxey has more-than-doubled his scoring output from his rookie campaign despite fluctuating usage. So, it’s not crazy at all to think he can peak at a mid-20-points-per-game guard. By the way, that’s approximately where Beal’s career scoring figure sits.

Maxey can certainly be his best self in Philly because the Sixers have sorely lacked a guard like him for, um, decades? But much like Embiid, he needs to be surrounded with credible shooters. You can find dozens of screenshots of defenders neglecting his teammates on the perimeter for the sake of cutting off the young guard’s driving lanes. Both his scoring and playmaking potential will be positioned for maximum growth when Maxey consistently senses that the driving lanes are unoccupied and feels empowered to navigate as he pleases on a possession-to-possession basis.