For better or for worse, the Philadelphia 76ers will forever be judged by their draft picks after “The Process”.
For four consecutive years, from 2014 through 2017, the Sixers drafted in the top 3.
They made selections with the 3rd pick twice (2014 & 2015) and made selections with the 1st pick twice (2016 & 2017*).
The asterisk is included next to 2017 because they technically had the 3rd pick, but traded up with the Boston Celtics to pick first.
The 2017 draft could wind up being the defining moment in the Sixers franchise for the next decade.
As most basketball fans know, the Fultz era was a disaster in Philly.
Injuries or psychological issues caused Fultz to simply forget how to shoot, and Philly cut bait with Markelle midway through the 2018 season.
Agent Raymond Brothers: “Markelle (Fultz) has been diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, (TOS), a physical injury.
TOS affects nerves between the neck and shoulder resulting in abnormal functional movement and range of motion, thus severely shoot a basketball…”
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 4, 2018
Meanwhile, Tatum has grown into a bonafide star in Boston.
He was voted into his first All-Star game last year and made the All-NBA 3rd Team.
Based on the vast difference in how the two 2017 draft picks turned out, the debate between who would you rather have has ended with them.
The debate has since turned to include another Sixer point guard – Ben Simmons.
Selected 1st overall in 2016, Simmons has also developed into a star.
Through his first 3 seasons, Simmons made 2 All-Star games, won ROY, and was elected to two All-NBA Teams (1st Team Defense and 3rd Team All-NBA).
However, Simmons still seemingly refuses to shoot jump shots.
Because of this major knock against his game, it is a fair question to ask whether one would want Simmons or Tatum.
To add some guidelines, we will base the argument on assuming you must build a roster around either player.
Tatum a Superior Offensive Player
When it comes to offense, there isn’t much debate.
Tatum is one of the elite talents in the NBA scoring the basketball.
Through the first two years of his career, Tatum averaged a meager 14.8 PPG on 46% shooting from the field.
He only averaged 3.5 3PA per game to go along with 3.1 FTA per game – not an ideal shot profile for today’s game.
After the 2018-2019 season, Tatum revamped his shot profile.
The improvement was incredible.
Before we get to the counting stats, take a look at his shot profile differences.
- 2018-19: 70% frequency on 2-point FGA; 30% frequency on 3-point FGA; 2.9 FTA
- 2019-20: 61.7% frequency on 2-point FGA; 38.3% frequency on 3-point FGA; 4.7 FTA
Swapping out the long-twos he used to take for more three-pointers rocketed Tatum into the upper echelon of scorers.
He averaged 23.4 PPG on 45% shooting while taking 7.1 3PA per game and 4.7 FTA per game.
His bag of moves is deep, allowing him to cook defenders one-on-one.
The improvement has continued to this year as well.
Tatum is averaging 26.3 PPG on 47% shooting while taking 7.9 3PA per game and 3.9 FTA per game.
All of this is not to say Simmons isn’t talented offensively.
Even without a reliable jumper and shaky foul shooting, he still averages 16 PPG for his career.
He is a triple-double threat the second he steps on the court and consistently finds teammates for open looks.
And while Simmons rarely shoots 3’s, that doesn’t stop him from setting up teammates from 3.
The Ben Simmons Paradox
2 career made 3s
782 career assisted 3s
(most in NBA since his debut) pic.twitter.com/kF6xWYSts1
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) February 23, 2020
He consistently is among the league leaders in 3s assisted on, as seen in the above tweet.
If Simmons can figure out the jumper, he could become a top-5 offensive talent in the NBA.
Simmons is an Elite Defender
While Tatum holds the advantage on offense, Simmons takes the cake on defense.
As mentioned earlier, Simmons has already made 1st Team All-Defense and finished 4th in DPOY voting last season.
His rare blend of size, length, and athleticism makes him a menace on the defensive end.
Ben is one of the rare players in the NBA who can make a legitimate case for being able to guard positions 1 through 5.
He averages 1.7 SPG and 0.8 BPG for his career.
Simmons also finished in the top-20 in both Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Box Plus/Minus last season.
Keep in mind Simmons recorded these numbers even while guarding the NBA’s elite.
Percentage of time matched up defensively spent guarding All-NBA players:
Ben Simmons: 15.9%
Jrue Holiday: 15.2%
Patrick Beverley: 12.7%
Bam Adebayo: 8.7%
Marcus Smart: 8.6%
Rudy Gobert: 7.8%
Anthony Davis: 7.0%
Jonathan Isaac: 6.5%
Brook Lopez: 6.3%
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 5.2% https://t.co/tCDfXmDdrJ
— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) June 4, 2020
These videos have multiple clips showing Simmons’ defensive versatility.
While Simmons is an excellent on-ball defender, his length also allows him to wreak havoc off the ball by getting in passing lanes.
The Australian finished 3rd last year in deflections per game and 2nd in loose balls recovered – two important hustle stats.
Simmons is off to a strong start this season on defense as well, locking down the opposing team’s top player.
Similar to the offensive debate, Tatum is not a poor defender by any means.
In addition to the offensive leap he took last year, he also took a sizeable jump on defense.
Tatum finished 7th in the league in Defensive Win Shares while averaging 1.4 SPG and 0.9 BPG.
He is not yet a lockdown defender, but his size and physicality indicate he has room to grow into one.
Simmons or Tatum?
When considering the talent in a vacuum, Simmons has the edge over Tatum.
Simmons is an elite on- and off-ball defender who is more effective on the offensive end than his reputation would suggest.
His ability to create for his teammates as well as his transition game
However, Tatum earns the nod in terms of building a team around him.
Athletic wings who can create their own offense are a luxury in the NBA, and that’s exactly what Tatum is.
Tatum is a talented scorer from all three levels and can go get his own bucket in crunch time.
And it is much easier to build a modern-NBA team around a scoring wing than a point guard who doesn’t shoot.