By: Scott RossPublished: May 14, 2022

The SuperMax Anger at Bill Simmons Isn't About Money

Joel Embiid has added his voice to the chorus of NBA stars calling out Bill Simmons for ripping on Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green, and calling into question the media mogul’s qualifications for voting on NBA awards, and, by extension, effecting the salary prospects of the league’s players. Don’t think for a moment that this is about money.

During the April 13 episode (skip to the 22:30 mark) of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons and guests Kevin O’Connor and Wosny Lambre were discussing the upcoming play-in matchups, when O’Connor mentioned his fondness for the New Orleans Pelicans’ Herb Jones. Simmons cut in with “Our guy, Herb Jones,” and Wos chimed in that Jones was the “hipster Twitter favorite, for sure.” Simmons then mentioned that he had Jones on his ballot for First Team All-Rookie.

“I put him over Jalen Green. Fuck Jalen Green. I don’t care if you’re scoring 40 points, your team is 19-60—Congratulations. Herb Jones was guarding dudes in real games. Now the Houston people are gonna be mad at me, I’m sorry, I like winning players, I’m sorry. Jalen Green will get there, it’s just, that team was 21-61 this year or whatever.”

Golden State Warrior Draymond Green (no relation to Jalen) took to Instagram to grouse about Simmons, saying “How is it that this guy has a voice in deciding if Jalen Green will qualify for a super max deal… What work has he done in this life that qualifies him to have a say in an NBA players salary?”

That post appears to have been deleted, but in another post, a clip from The Draymond Green Show, decries voters’ ability to hurt a player’s earning potential and maybe even Hall of Fame candidacy.

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Jalen Green, for his part, seemed to take things more or less in stride.

Asked on Tuesday how he felt about losing out to Nikola Jokic for the MVP Award, Embiid pivoted to his concerns about the voting process, specifically how a man like Simmons could have so much power.

“Sounded like he had a grudge against somebody, he’s saying ‘f Jalen Green.’ So, if we gonna allow this type of person to vote on these awards, that’s not fair. What if Jalen Green was in a position to earn a super-max (contract) or an all-star appearance…. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Just to be clear, Simmons’ vote has no bearing on Green’s supermax eligibility, because the All-Rookie team has no bearing on it, but they’re appears to be a worry that Simmons will hate on the kid long enough that he can screw up his supermax chances with an All-NBA Team vote or the like. Is it fucked up that Simmons has any direct influence, no matter how minor (Simmons is just one voter out of a pool of 100), on a player’s future earnings? Maybe. But what that argument ignores, and which reveals a glaring hole in it, is the fact that while Simmons may potentially hurt one player’s fortunes, he will inevitably help another’s—he’s gotta vote for somebody, somebody who could potentially benefit from a supermax bump. Also, that bump is a binary proposition, you get it or you don’t. It’s not as though you get more money based on how many votes you get—you get it or you don’t, irrespective of vote totals.

Also, who the hell do these guys think should be voting on these awards, if not Bill Simmons and his fellow journalists? The Fans? Coaches? Players? Owners? There isn’t a single demographic that would be free from bias. You could always change the criteria for a supermax, base it entirely on a statistical formula, but if you think your average star athlete has contempt for sportswriters, just get them going on stat nerds. Take Draymond on a tour to meet every teams’ army of quants, the pencil-necked geeks who cook up the formulas that teams use to identify the best players, and he’ll be begging for the return of Bill Simmons.

Then there’s the question of whether or not Simmons is correct in his assessment of Green as a basketball player. There were 19 rookies this past season who logged enough minutes to qualify for the scoring title, and among those dudes, Green was second in points per game (17.3), and seventh in both rebounds (3.4) and assists (2.6), which, on the face of it suggests that Green may well have been among the top 5 rookies. But if you drill down into the advanced metrics, Green’s standing looks very different.

Among this year’s 19 rookies, Green ranks 14th in Win Shares; 15th in WS/48; 16th in Value Over Replacement Player; 13th in Box Plus/Minus; and 8th in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). If you limit the pool to just the guards in this rookie class, Green only cracks the top 3 in one category, PER. And focusing on advanced defensive metrics really makes Green look bad, as he finished dead last among rookies in Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus/Minus and Defensive Rating, with the latter estimating he allowed 120 points per possession. In fact, Green ranked dead last among all NBA players who qualified for the scoring title.

To Simmons’ point about Greens scoring prowess, Green was on fire over the last seven games of the season, scoring 30+ six times and averaging 29.3ppg, but his team lost all seven games. Maybe the most damning evidence against Green is the fact that the Rockets were 12-55 (.179) with him and 8-7 (.533) without him.

All this bitching about Simmons isn’t about money and it’s not about basketball. It’s about feelings, an issue that has been brewing for a while now. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2019, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed concern for the mental wellbeing of his players.

"We are living in a time of anxiety," Silver said. "I think it's a direct result of social media. A lot of players are unhappy."

And that was before Covid. Bake in all the sickness, lost loved ones, lockdowns, the lost wages, and you’ve got a generation of young NBA players who are understandably miserable—just like the rest of younger Americans (yes, Embiid is Cameroonian, but he’s been in the States since he was 16).

There’s one other thing Draymond and Embiid are overlooking, and that’s the fact that Simmons actually likes Jalen Green. Was Simmons wrong to simply declare “Fuck Jalen Green”? Yeah, probably, but you could hear the laughter in his voice and his colleagues responded accordingly. But he went on to praise Green. After Simmons’ tirade, O’Connor came to the kid’s defense, and Simmons was quick to concede O’Connor’s point.

O’Connor: “When I look back at my (All-Rookie) ballot years from now, I think what I might regret most, Bill, even though I love Herb Jones so much, Jalen Green was awesome.”

Simmons: “He was! I agree…. I’m pro Jalen Green, I just didn’t think he was one of the best five rookies. But we also had an iconic rookie class. I think that was one of the best rookie classes we’ve had.”

It’s clear that the current generation of NBA stars is deep in their feels and has had enough of our bullshit—Simmons’, yours, mine… and who can blame them. The players and the league have finally decided to take a stand against the abuse that comes raining down on them and their families, as fans are getting booted from arenas with some regularity. Players have had enough.

Simmons certainly could’ve expressed his preference for Jones over Green without f-bombing the kid, but let’s not pretend this is about money or Simmons’ basketball judgment.

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