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Am I the only one who is sick to absolute death of hearing NBA media professionals saying, “Of course the Simmons Embiid combo can be successful!”
Okay, fine I suppose it depends on your definition of success. Rachel Nichols recently said something about this on The Jump. Her comments were to the effect that the ‘6ers took the Raptors to seven games in the ECSFs with the Simmons Embiid combo. And is that not some level of success? (As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a clip or tweet of these paraphrased statements so you’ll have to take my word for it.)
Okay, yeah, there definitely has been a level of success. Especially for a team that was in full rebuilding mode not so long ago. But in the case of the wildly underachieving ‘6ers, this is not the point.
The Raptors were supposed to have zero shot against the 76ers during last season’s playoffs if you believe the so-called professionals. (Which as a Raptors fan I can never afford to do.) After the Raptors accomplished what was widely declared to be impossible the narrative was, of course, but if not for Kawhi. And sure, I admit, there was something to that.
A Step Back
But fast forward to this season and you have a Raptors team with a better record than they had last season even though Leonard opted to leave behind the great white north for the warmer climes of California. The Miami Heat are a force in the East this season and the Celtics are better than they were last year too. Philly on the other hand… Well, their fifth-place 35-21 record says a lot. Their 9-19 road record says a hell of a lot more. A road record that bad screams team dysfunction.
Interesting, isn’t it? How Philly’s star has fallen as the temperature is rising in Miami? We can all agree that this is not a coincidence, yes? But none of this is really the point. The point, dear reader, is that success for Philly as an organization, for the fanbase, for the players is a team that is a true NBA Finals contender.
The Simmons Embiid Problem
The insistence that the Simmons Embiid combination can work is absolute garbage. I’m about to drop some truth. Prepare yourself.
Simmons and Embiid are players with diametrically opposed styles at a fundamental level. Simmons loves to play fast and frankly when he can get out and run he is magnificent. Embiid needs to play a slow, preferably half-court game. He’s a giant center. As I write this article, I’m watching the last 35.9 seconds of the Philly, Brooklyn game. During the NBA on TNT broadcast, it was said that Philly’s problem is that they are lacking an offensive identity. This sentiment I completely agree with.
That said, can someone please explain to me how a team is supposed to find said offensive identity when they’re relying on two players who play completely different styles as their starting stars? Ben Simmons should not be asked to play slow. Embiid should not be asked to play fast. It’s as simple as that.
Not to mention the three-ball. Joel Embiid has said that if Ben Simmons isn’t comfortable shooting the three, he’ll take more. Was I a 76ers fan, on hearing that my palm would have made contact with my face so fast I might have to go through concussion protocol. For the love of basketball, how can anyone think that is the solution to the Simmons Embiid conundrum?
I know the NBA big man game has changed since I fell in love with basketball at the tail end of the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys era. I realize the benefit of a big man being able to step back and knock down the three. But unless you first subject me to a lobotomy, you will never be able to convince me that your center shooting from range because your point guard, can’t, won’t, or has the world’s worst case of the yips, is a recipe for success.
The Simplest Simmons Embiid Solution
I’m a huge fan of the principle of Occam’s razor. If you’re not familiar with it, the idea, in a nutshell, is that the simplest answer is often correct. So, in the case of the Simmons Embiid conundrum, what is the simplest solution?
Well, the simplest solution is that an NBA point guard should be able to play at the perimeter, even if it’s not his preference. I don’t think Simmons needs to become a shooter a la Reggie Miller or Steph Curry. He just needs to be a threat from three. Think about the way that would open things up for him with his quick, explosive first step if guards weren’t saying, “G’on ahead, take a three.” With his speed, athleticism and impressive dime-dropping abilities, he would be damn near unstoppable.
I’ve always said that the thing that separates all-time great basketball players from the really good ballers isn’t in their talent; it’s in their attitude. Especially right now with his memorial being a few days away, it’s hard to pick any NBA player that personified that more than Kobe Bryant. Yes, he was a gifted player, but he was a hard worker and the word “quit” literally was not in his vocabulary.
Now, you might think what I’m about to say is a little cray, but Imma say it any damn way. If Ben Simmons had even just a touch of the Mamba Mentality, he’d be in the running to be up there in the conversation with the all-time greats. With a little of that (but preferably a lot), he’d be doing everything he could be doing to be the best he can be.
That he hasn’t needed a three-point shot to average 16.5 PPG in his career. I care that he could be averaging a lot more if he would shoot. I care that he’s forcing his teammate to consider playing in a style that is horribly suited for his skill set and size because he is unwilling to do what he should be doing. Kobe, LeBron, Michael, none of them would ever do that.
So yeah, Simmons playing like the damn point guard he supposedly is is the most straight-forward solution. But it seems more and more unlikely that isn’t going to happen. So, what’s the next option?
Philly Needs to Take a Cue From Minnesota
Yep. I just said that.
No sudden weakness or numbness on one side of my body. I’m not confused. My cat understood me clearly when I yelled at her to stop sharpening her claws on the rug just now. And my comprehension is perfectly fine. No vision problems. I can see clearly that the Rockets have dropped 72 points at halftime and hold a 22 point lead over the Warriors.
Okay, I didn’t just have a stroke. I must have actually meant that subheading. I’d best set about the task of explaining exactly what I mean.
First, I am not trying to imply that the talent levels of KAT and Wiggins are comparable to Simmons and Embiid. Remember, I just determined that I did not have a stroke. But I do see similarities in the situations of the teams. You’ve got three first overall draft picks and one third overall. In Philly’s case, they were picked two years apart. In Minnesota, they were picked one year after the other. Both were teams deep in tanking/rebuilding phases. Sure, Philly found a cool name to euphemize it. Philly fans will never stomach the word ‘tank’. Thus The Process was born. But come one, we all know what it was.
These are two teams that were on the same path. Yeah, the degrees of success have varied a bit. A lot. Okay, there’s a Grand Canyon-sized gap between the T-Wolves and ‘6ers (Sorry Taylor, facts is facts.) And that gap I’m sure has a lot of factors involved. Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference. Pretty good overall organizational management vs. well Minnesota’s overall management. (Sorry again, Taylor.) But the basic idea was the same. Two teams with two early draft picks each and the hopes that they could build it into something.
This year at the trade deadline, it became obvious that Minnesota has seen the light. (See Taylor, it’s not all bad.) They’ve realized that while Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are talented players, the combination is not going to advance them as a team. This is where the most poignant similarity lies. As mentioned at the top, you can absolutely say that Philly has had a certain level of success with the Simmons Embiid duo. But is this a combination that is going to advance the team beyond where they’ve already been?
I think by now you can guess at my answer to that question. My query to you who believe it can work is this:
Follow me on Twitter @auxiliarythings for random basketball musings and live tweets during NBA games. And if you’re wondering who Taylor is, check out my Podcast, Hardcourt Hunnies. Can’t get enough NBA? Check out other NBA articles by the Belly Up Hoops team.