The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics meet on Friday in a clash between Eastern Conference powerhouses.
At the heart of the marquee matchup?
The duel between Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum. While Simmons held the upper hand in each of their first two seasons in the league, Tatum is coming on strong in his third year to the point where "Simmons vs Tatum" is a legitimate debate.
We put it to our Global NBA.com staff: who would you rather have moving forward?
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): It's hands down Jayson Tatum.
While I do think that Ben Simmons has a higher individual ceiling, Tatum's skill set is far easier to build around. Surrounding Ben Simmons with a bunch of shooters like the Milwaukee Bucks have done with Giannis Antetokounmpo could unleash a version of the Aussie that we simply haven't seen in Philadelphia, save for a stretch to end the 2017-18 regular season in which Joel Embiid missed the second half of a season-ending 16-game win streak.
But barring the perfect set of circumstances and complementary pieces, I'll take Tatum who has shown tremendous feel as a scorer and is improving as a playmaker. While he'll likely never be on Simmons's level as a passer, Tatum's ability to score in the half-court both on and off the ball elevates him to another level. And even though the knee-jerk reaction might be to say that Simmons has the upper hand on the defensive end of the floor, there's evidence to suggest that Tatum is every bit the defensive force.
MORE: Simmons is a defensive powerhouse
Add in the fact that he's nearly two years younger and Tatum is a no-brainer selection.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I'm going with Jayson Tatum, too.
It feels like each time we have one of these discussions, I strongly lean towards the more prolific scorer of the players at question. I promise scoring isn't the only thing that matters to me but I'm giving Tatum the edge.
He's showing great growth in his Year 3 leap as he's posting averages of 20.9 points, 7.1 boards and just under three assists per game. I know that when it's winning time and I need a bucket, you can put the ball in his hands and he can make a play.
As he did here:
TATUM TAKES IT... MAKES IT!!! pic.twitter.com/e0xzbtRjnP- Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 2, 2019
Like Micah said, I think Simmons needs a very specific team around him to reach his peak but I feel like Tatum is malleable enough as a scorer to find his spots regardless of who's areound him.
That's enough to impact my decision.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): The right answer here is Jayson Tatum.
I love me some Ben Simmons and routinely find myself in arguments with my fellow NBA.com staffers about what Simmons currently is as a basketball player. We know he can't shoot, but he offers so much more than just that.
That being said, Tatum is showing us this season that he's the player we'd thought he would be after his breakout rookie campaign. The dude is playing at an All-Star level.
He's averaging a career-high 20.9 points, 7.1 rebounds per game. He's also shown this season that he can be a quality defender.
With Tatum on the floor, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 99.0. With him off the floor, that number shoots up to 106.4 according to NBA Stats. If that's not enough for you to realize the impact he's had defensively this year, how about this? Tatum ranks second in defensive real plus-minus according to ESPN - a stat designed to determine a player's on-court impact his team's defensive performance per 100 possessions.
The one area where Simmons might have had Tatum trumped was on the defensive end of the floor, Tatum has narrow that gap if not surpassed Simmons.
Give me Tatum, and there's no looking back.
Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): The question is who would you rather build around.
The answers above seem to ignore the fact that the Sixers have simply refused to build around the guy they actually have!
If you look at the past few seasons, the Sixers have had J.J Redick, Robert Covington, Jimmy Butler, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli on their roster. They have at times flirted with building a sutiable roster around Simmons like the Bucks have with Antetokounmpo, before veering off course once more.
Philadelphia find themselves in a difficult postion with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They have two top-20 players on their roster that simply don't fit.
We know Simmons is allergic to shooting outside the paint, and we also know that Embiid is at his best when he is going to work in the post and physically overwhelming the opposition defence.
Unfortunately those two things don't lead to a fluent offence in the half-court.
Simmons holds career averages of 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists. Last season he averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists. The list of players to average those numbers in a single season under the age of 25 in NBA history is:
- Oscar Robertson
- Michael Jordan
- Grant Hill
- Magic Johnson
- Luka Doncic
- BEN SIMMONS
Let's dive further into the fit on the current Sixers roster by looking at some two-man lineup data from the first quarter of the season (min 50 minutes):
The offensive efficiency numbers are better with SEVEN other teammates before you get to Embiid.
Simmons had a career-high 34 points against Cleveland last week when you guessed it, Embiid was out with injury.
Building around Simmons in 2019 should be easy. He's an elite defender at multiple positions, he's an absolute terror in transition as a finisher or distributor, and he's years away from his prime.
Who would I rather build around out of Simmons or Tatum?
It's Simmons and it's not close. We'll see if Philadelphia find a way to make it work.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.