The Portland Trail Blazers have made one smart trade this off-season; sending a pick and Derrick Jones Jr away in a three-team trade that then netted impressive Cleveland Cavaliers big man Larry Nance Jr. This was a nice supplementary move on the margins, but it likely won’t be enough to win a playoff series or keep Damian Lillard long term. This is why they need to make a drastic move by trading CJ McCollum for Ben Simmons.
After last year’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, something changed in Lillard. He realized maybe for the first time, that the core of this team just wasn’t good enough to compete for a conference finals or finals berth.
Though he didn’t iterate it publicly, Dame said enough in the off-season to show he was serious about leaving the Blazers if they didn’t get things together.
Here’s why they should make this trade in the off-season
Ben Simmons is a better fit with Damian Lillard than CJ McCollum is
Fit is so important at the highest levels when you are trying to push for a playoff series win. It’s been said over and over, but there is too much skill redundancy when McCollum and Lillard are on the court at the same time.
Both of them are small guards who don’t have a post-up or inside presence. With McCollum’s size and lack of strength, he has almost stopped getting to the line and the rim altogether, and Lillard as he ages may have the same issue. Both of them are heavy three-point shooters who are small in today’s NBA and don’t really complement each other.
A lack of size means that neither are positive defenders if you look at their overall body of work on that end. With the huge offensive load that Dame carries, he can’t be expected to guard the best or second-best player at high levels. McCollum is the same. Pairing these two together on the defensive end just doesn’t work. Simmons, as you will read below, is a far better fit on both ends with Dame.
Ben Simmons is an all-world defender
The Blazers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. This has been the case for the last two seasons where they have sat in the bottom three or four teams in the entire NBA.
Mainly, this is because of size and an inability to defend the point of attack. Lillard is at the apex of his prime, but the Blazers still haven’t put a forward or wing alongside who can contain the NBA’s best players.
Ben Simmons can do that. There are very few guys who can defend one through four or one through five in the league. Simmons will go from guarding Trae Young to guarding John Collins.
A lot of NBA media feel he is one of if not the best defender in the league. And after two consecutive All-Defensive first-team selections, he is at least top five. It’s been so long since the Blazers have had an elite man defender. Robert Covington is an elite help defender, but just isn’t the same force that Simmons is.
This Blazer team is hanging out for a guy that can make a massive impact on their team defense.
No team that has a 29th ranked defense can expect to make noise in the post-season. This was the case where the injury-ridden Denver Nuggets still disposed of the Blazers in six games.
Simmons would transform this team.
Offensively, he makes sense
Some of the concerns that have been named in recent weeks surround Dame’s offensive fit with Simmons. I don’t think this is an issue at all. Simmons provides the efficient rim finishing that this team is lacking, and would also give a transition element to a team that already has more athletes than it did 12 months ago.
In Norman Powell, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and Larry Nance Jr, this team has a transition presence now and Simmons would be able to unlock this. By using Simmons as the screener for Lillard in the half-court, and utilizing him from handoff situations, the Blazers would have an uber-athletic presence who would stop teams from doubling Lillard.
He may not be a good fit with Jusuf Nurkic but his playmaking is undeniable, and he could give Lillard some much-needed rest on the offensive end but pushing him off-ball a little.
Simmons needs a new situation for his offense to flourish, and the Blazers could be just that with new coach Chauncey Billups.
Simmons fit is better than the skill redundancies we see with Dame and CJ, and as the clock is ticking on Dame’s prime and pairing him with another top 20 player in the league, GM Neil Olshey needs to pull the trigger.