After watching Ben Simmons dominate without Joel Embiid, could the Philadelphia 76ers’ best bet moving forward be to limit the time the duo share the court?
For as historically significant the Philadelphia 76ers‘ nationally televised win over the Los Angeles Lakers has suddenly become, both for LeBron James passing Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list and for the unfortunate tragedy that would happen the very next day, the actual on-court performance was not without note.
Why? The Sixers won!
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For fans in the City of Brotherly Love, it was truly a wonderful night that should restore hope to anyone worried about this team suffering serious regression in the lead up to the All-Star game.
Ben Simmons wasn’t going to let that happen.
After coming out of the gates hot, hitting a pair of 3 pointers in the process, Simmons’ ever in-flux popularity dipped due to a (semi-justified) perceived lack of development in his game. This led to fans once again questioning the 6-foot-10 point guards’ long-term viability with Embiid on a championship squad – with a pair of writers suggesting that the team should ship the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell, Kevon Looney, and a first-round pick.
Boy, that idea aged poorly.
However, despite Simmons proving his worth as a legit NBA star, and proving his toughness by dominating the Lakers without a tooth, some of those questions are still worth pondering. Namely: can Simmons and Embiid share the court together?
Emphasis on the court.
You see, typically, teams want to play their best players early and often (duh). In doing so, it’s only logical to assume that these best players will share the court for a lot of, if not the majority of, any given game.
Traditionally, that’s how championship teams are created, but this Sixers squad is not your typical championship contender.
Because of the sizeable overlap between Embiid and Simmons’ skill sets, neither player can fully optimize their strengths when on the court together. With Simmons at the helm, Embiid can’t dominate in the paint and instead has to bide his time outside the arc as a spot up 3 point shooter. This strategy can stagnate the offense, and force Embiid to drive to the basket facing the basket, where his less-than-elite ball handling can get exposed.
And as for Simmons, well, his whole game is built on playing fast, and that’s a whole lot harder to do with Embiid at the five. When paired up with a smaller ball lineup, Simmons becomes elite in the full-court press, where his size, speed, and basketball instincts are virtually unguardable when paired up with a quartet of competent outside shooters.
So, hear me out here, why not play the duo together as little as possible?
I mean think about it, Embiid and Simmons play roughly 32 and 36 minutes in any given game respectfully. With NBA regulation lasting 48 minutes, that means there are roughly 16 minutes a night when Embiid is off the court, and 12 minutes with Simmons off the court.
Brett Brown should be able to work with that.
Sure, you’ll still get four-to-six minutes at the top of a game when the Sixers will roll with their starting five, and a similar stretch in the fourth quarter of any relatively close game, but outside of that, let’s say 16 minutes of action each night, why not split up Embiid and Simmons almost exclusively, with a collection of sets built around either player’s strengths.
Granted, it would take some tweaking, and the team would probably have to retool the bench with a few better fitting reserves, as Embiid really deserves a chance to play with a traditional point guard at some point in his career, but why allow external ‘experts’ to separate the Sixers’ two stars when the team itself can do two separate but equal schematic ideologies tailored to either player’s strengths?
Embiid and Simmons would still have to compromise when on the court together, but in any team sport who doesn’t?
Unlike a team like the Milwaukee Bucks who are built around a singular star, the Philadelphia 76ers have the unique challenge of having two incredibly talented young stars who don’t quite fit together on the court. While having two stars is certainly better than one, it also presents unique challenges that have to be overcome to build a championship contender. By allowing Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to each be the focal point of an offense for roughly a third of the game, it could give each player a chance to shine and Brett Brown a one-two punch unlike any in the league right now.