Philadelphia 76ers: How Joel Embiid’s role has changed without Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid has played with Ben Simmons for all but one of his seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The duo have played together under two different head coaches, with dozen of different players, and in very different situations, and yet, through it all, the success of the Sixers has largely been played on their proverbial shoulders.

Is that fair? Eh. One could argue that the Sixers haven’t done the best job surrounding their core with quality complementary pieces, as the team has wasted multiple lottery picks and Jimmy Butler‘s tenure in the post-Sam Hinkie-era, but in the end, it’s hard to argue with it either.

Even if their on-court fit is suspect, the duo are good enough to win 50 games based on talent alone and that, my friends, is what makes splitting them apart so tricky.

But hey, with Ben Simmons absent for a number of reasons, fans of the Philadelphia 76ers have been given a front row seat to a world where Joel Embiid is the team’s lone superstar, and the results have been interesting to say the least.

The Philadelphia 76ers can learn a lot about Joel Embiid with Ben Simmons sidelined.

It’s hard to compare Joel Embiid’s 2020-21 season to his initial run in 2021-22 because he just hasn’t played as many minutes.

On opening night, Embiid sat out the entire fourth quarter because of the team’s big lead, and in Game 3, a similarly lopsided point differential limited his fourth quarter minutes to 5:30 in favor of a steady dose of BBall Paul.

Furthermore, Embiid was playing with a knee injury versus the OKC Thunder, which probably would have held him off the court but hey, that’s a complaint for another article.

With that all in mind, there are a few good things and one concerning area that have come to light in a world where Tyrese Maxey and Furkan Korkmaz run the point instead of Ben Simmons.

For one, Embiid is spending much more time in the paint than in seasons prior. He gets to operate unencumbered under the basket and is surrounded with four willing shooters around the arc. This has allowed Embiid to average an even five assists per game through the first three games of the season, which is an aspect of the big fella’s game that has always been ripe for expansion.

Per Jackson Frank, Embiid’s current assist rate, 26.4, is eight points higher than his previous career best, signifying a player both willing to pass and an offense opened up by Embiid consistently drawing additional bodies into the painted area.

Did I ever think I’d see the day where Embiid led the 76ers in assists per game? Not, but here we are, and I’m cool with it.

Furthermore, Embiid is actually averaging his fewest turnovers per game of his career at 1.3, largely because he isn’t taking the ball at the top of the key and driving it to the basket nearly as often as in years before. Granted, he’s still getting the ball a bit too far away from the basket a bit too often for my tastes, as that leads to some low percentage midrange shots that are dragging his field goal percentage down, but as a general rule, Embiid is taking care of the ball better than in seasons past, and is a very welcomed development.

Embiid is also, weirdly enough, taking the most three-pointers of his career at 4.2 and is making them at a similarly impressive 46.2 percent clip.

Will that continue over a full NBA season? Probably not, but it’s nice to see Embiid hasn’t completely abandoned his perimeter shooting game with Simmons out of the equation.

Overall, Embiid has been playing a different but equally impressive brand of basketball through the first week of the 2021-22 NBA season, even if his points total isn’t quite as MVP worthy as in seasons past. However, with all of the good does come some bad, namely that Embiid remains a less than ideal end of game scorer when it matters most.

In the team’s home opener, a tour de force against a similarly undermanned Brooklyn Nets squad, Embiid and company were outscored 16-1 in the final 5:30 of the game. Embiid entered the game at 4:12 in the fourth and went 0-3 from the field versus one rebound and three fouls. While all of that isn’t on Embiid’s shoulders, as Tobias Harris and Danny Green combined to go 0-5 from the field over that tenure and Seth Curry missed a free throw, it’s still notable that Embiid’s game came to be exploited fairly easily when he doesn’t have a reliable closer to play off of.

Can Maxey be that guy? Only time will tell, but needless to say, this team will experience the same end-of-game issues they experienced versus the Atlanta Hawks back in the playoffs if they don’t figure that situation out.

Are the Philadelphia 76ers better off without Ben Simmons? No. You don’t just subtract a three time All-Star and magically become a better team, but with Simmons out, we have inadvertently been given a glimpse into what an offense built solely around Joel Embiid would look like and thus far, the results have been pretty darn good. Pair Embiid up with a closer who can get his own shot in the back half of a fourth quarter and Daryl Morey might just have the championship contender he’s been laboring to build over the past 13 months.