Free Agent Preview: Jonathan Simmons

 

We’re going to keep trying a series where we take a deeper dive at some of the upcoming free agents and give my personal and amateur opinions about the best situations for them.

JONATHAN SIMMONS

The player you’re getting

Regardless of how you feel about Jonathon Simmons‘ skills, you have to respect the journey and root for a guy like him. Simmons has spent his entire basketball career in the state of Texas — but he’s done so in unconventional fashion. He’s bounced around every step of the way, even in his amateur career which saw him go from Paris Junior College to Midland College to Houston University.

His professional career’s been the same way, as he’s played for the Sugar Land Legends (of the ABL) and the Austin Toros of the D-League. His impressive tryout and play for the Toros led Simmons to actually log meaningful minutes with the San Antonio Spurs these last two years. In fact, this past playoffs may have been Simmons’ shining moment, as he filled in for an injured Kawhi Leonard and averaged 15.3 points per game in the Western Conference Finals.

Based on those games alone, you can talk yourself into Simmons being a potential breakout star in the future. A 6’6″ wing whose length, strength, and athleticism allow him to play “bigger” than that, he’s a strong defensive player. As demonstrated against Golden State, he can also score at a reasonable rate in the mid to basket range, adding some high-flying dunks for good measure. Simmons has risen to the occasion and succeeded at every opportunity given to him, so presumably, he could continue to do that with a larger role.

On the other hand, there are some obvious drawbacks to that “upside.” Simmons has been working on his range and has flashed some range at times (he shot well in the D-League), but in general, he’s not a reliable shooter. In a limited sample size, he’s 32.2% from beyond the arc in his NBA career, which would be below-average for a wing player.

Despite being new to the NBA landscape, Simmons isn’t as young as you’d expect, either. He’s 27 now and turning 28 later this year in September. That does limit his perceived upside, and hurt his market to some degree.

The contract he’s getting

Jonathon Simmons picked a great time to have his best playoff series, right before his free agency. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, Simmons will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs can match any offer for him.

When I say it could be “unfortunately” or “fortunately,” it’s because restricted free agency can strike both ways. Many times, teams will be reluctant to press for a RFA, presuming the original team will match the offer. On the other hand, a team may also make a point to OVER-bid (as Brooklyn did last year with Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson) in order to discourage a match. Even if the original team does suck it up and match the offer, that player’s winding up with a big old’ contract to fall back on. There’s a good chance that Simmons, like our previous study Ian Clark, could yield massive “WTF” offers.

Although the Spurs have cap room now, I don’t see them matching outrageous offers for Simmons. If a team wants to overpay and land him, they probably can. What’s an overpay here…? It depends on your perspective. Anything that exceeds a $10 million average for 3-4 years fits that bill to me, given his limitations and risk of him “busting” outside of San Antonio. He’s an intriguing add for any team, but a natural risk.

The best fits

(3) Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz’ Plan A should be to re-sign Gordon Hayward and keep their momentum going forward. However, the rumors about Hayward considering Boston and Miami are very real, which should lead the team to have some backup plans in mind

If Hayward leaves, this isn’t a team that needs to “blow it up” and dive fully into a rebuild. They’re still going to have some good young players like Rudy Gobert (25) and Rodney Hood (24). Simmons is a little older than that, but in general, he fits into that timeline. Maybe he wouldn’t leap right into the starting lineup, but he could be a key part of the rotation.

The other reason this fit makes some sense to me is coach Quin Snyder. Among his many stops, Snyder spent time in San Antonio (and also in Atlanta with former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer.) That Spurs coaching branch has always valued player development, specifically in regards to teaching wings how to shoot. Simmons hasn’t become a reliable shooter yet, but perhaps Snyder’s one of those coaches who feels more confident in his ability to milk the most from a talent like his.

(2) San Antonio Spurs

I don’t believe that the Spurs will match a crazy contract offer for Jonathon Simmons, but if he returns to the team on a reasonable contract (or a 1-year deal, with an eye to testing unrestricted free agency next summer), then he fits in with this team and their culture.

The path to playing time is more of a question mark. Barring a trade, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard should be locking down the majority of the SG/SF minutes going forward. However, Manu Ginobili‘s retirement (or decline) will lead to some more opportunity at the reserve spots. If Simmons stays, he may be able to get 20+ minutes a night on a consistent basis. Staying home in San Antonio may be the best thing for Simmons’ development, as the Spurs staff have always been great about molding talent.

(1) Sacramento Kings

I’d advise most role players and rotational players on a contending team to enjoy the ride and the winning culture, but for younger players like Jonathon Simmons or Ian Clark, chasing the money isn’t just an option — it should be the priority.

Simmons hasn’t landed a sizable contract in the NBA yet and has four daughters at home. This isn’t LeBron James chasing history — this is a man, trying to support his family and set up their futures. He absolutely should try to draw as big of an offer as possible in restricted free agency and force San Antonio’s hand to match or not.

There are some young teams with cap space who may be candidates for that job (Indiana, Brooklyn, etc) but I don’t necessarily see perfect fits there. Brooklyn may have gone hard after Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, but that’s partly because coach Kenny Atkinson values shooting so much. Simmons isn’t an ace shooter, and his defensive skills may be emulated by the wings on their roster like Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Indiana is a potential destination, but I’m not sure he meshes well with Lance Stephenson in terms of spacing.

That leads me to think Sacramento may fit the bill the best. The Kings drafted two more small forwards in back-to-back years with Malachi Richardson and Justin Jackson, but they still have the cap room (and playing time available) to roll the dice on one more. Adding Simmons would lead to a battle royale for playing time that may bring out the best in all three. At the moment, the battle-tested Simmons would be the favorite to start, where his skills would be a nice complement to shooter Buddy Hield at the wing.

Further, Simmons’ attitude and playing style feel like it’d be appreciated by coach Dave Joerger. Between Simmons and rookie De’Aaron Fox, the Kings can start to create a culture of defense and intensity. The idea of Simmons “breaking out” as a star player may be remote, but when you have cap room to play with (and a longer timeline to contention), there’s not much downside here.

 

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