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On Tuesday, Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that Philadelphia 76ers power forward Ben Simmons no longer wants to play with superstar center Joel Embiid and has “decided that his career is better off without Embiid blocking the runways in the paint that he so badly needs to succeed.”
But Sixers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters he nonetheless believes that Simmons, currently threatening to hold out until he’s traded, will eventually report to the team and can work out any difficulties on the court with Embiid:
Rich Hofmann @rich_hofmann
Doc Rivers: “Ben’s not here but I do believe at some point he will be.”
“This is not the first time guys didn’t think they could play together. It’s just basketball.” pic.twitter.com/3MQ2EKlEUm
Simmons and Embiid have never been a seamless fit. Because Embiid is one of the best post scorers in the NBA (and one of the few players who is actually an efficient low-post scorer), there are natural spacing issues at times for the Sixers, given that Simmons doesn’t shoot from the perimeter and is only effective as a scorer near the basket.
So the Sixers are left to either leave Simmons in the dunker spot by the basket, clogging the lane, or having Simmons hang on the perimeter, where he’s a non-factor and his defender can easily leave him to double Embiid.
Using Simmons as a screener or cutter can alleviate some of those issues. But it’s not the only stylistic difference between the pair.
Simmons, for instance, is at his best in transition, pushing the pace, driving the basket and either finishing or kicking out to open teammates beyond the arc. Embiid, meanwhile, is a half-court player, preferring a slower pace to an up-and-down matchup.
Both players, ideally, would be best served with four shooters around them. Embiid would be far better served with a point guard who could effectively run the pick-and-roll and create his own shot. Simmons would be better served with a center who isn’t at his best in the post, spacing the floor.
The only area the two are dynamic together is defensively, where Simmons can lock down a team’s best perimeter scorer and Embiid patrols the paint, protecting the rim.
And yet, despite the clear stylistic differences between the two, the Sixers outscored opponents by 15.5 points per 100 possessions last season when Simmons and Embiid were on the court together, per NBA.com.
And that’s where statements like “it’s basketball” from Rivers are lended credence. For all of the obvious reasons a Simmons and Embiid pairing shouldn’t work, it has worked in the past, at least until the second round of the playoffs rolls around.
And even then, the Sixers have never had a lead perimeter scorer who could create his own shot in crunch time, save for a partial season with Jimmy Butler, and that team was only ousted by a miracle three by Kawhi Leonard. (Butler’s unwillingness to regularly shoot from beyond the arc offered its own fit issues with Simmons, it should be noted.)
It’s probably a moot point—Simmons seems entrenched in his position that he wants to be moved. And given all of the baggage from last postseason—with the enduring image of Philly’s Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks remaining Simmons’s decision to pass up a wide-open dunk—a change of scenery might be best for all parties.
But in Philly, there’s plenty of wondering what might have been had Embiid and Simmons ever been paired with a third star who perfectly complemented them. Or if Simmons ever evolved his offensive game.