In a 90-83 scrimmage victory against the Grizzlies, the Sixers made their return to the basketball court as Ben Simmons saw his first action at power forward. The Sixers plan to shake the lineup up by moving Simmons to the 4 and bringing in Shake Milton as the final guard to start.
It’s no secret that the Sixers experimented with lineups throughout the regular season by moving Al Horford from the starting lineup to the bench. As a result, Horford was much more productive playing the Center position off the bench as opposed to playing with Embiid to start a game. This decision amongst other factors could very well affect the outcome of the Sixers season.
The most notable factor is the environment the Sixers will be playing in the Orlando bubble. At home they looked like a clear cut final contender; boasting a 29-2 home record. When playing on the road, they finished 10-24 and seemed to show signs of a team that would not make it past the first round. The games played in the Orlando bubble will provide the Sixers with no home-court advantage but in contrast, they will not have to face boos from opposing teams’ crowds.
This makes the Sixers the biggest wildcards in the NBA as their play may be unpredictable in Orlando. Regardless, the Sixers could have a choice looming over their heads that will impact their championship trajectory moving forward. If they aren’t able to at least truly compete against the likes of the Bucks, Celtics, and Raptors, do they trade one of their franchise cornerstone pieces away, and who do they trade?
Case for and against Embiid:
Joel Embiid is simply put one of if not the most dominant players in the league when he is healthy and playing with a chip on his shoulder. He can impact a basketball game in so many ways individually from scoring at will in the post to knocking down threes at an efficient rate to grabbing close to 20 rebounds.
The defensive impact is without question; a motivated Embiid will give the Sixers elite rim protection and allow little production in the paint from the other team. Compared to Simmons he is a better scorer, shooter, rebounder, and individual defender. The numbers reflect these skill differences as Embiid has a higher individual defensive rating at 103.6 which ranks 12th in the NBA, and he posts better statistics in each of the previously mentioned categories.
The number of games in which the Sixers have played without Simmons (52 games) is extremely less than the number of games they have played without Embiid (9 games). Therein lies the ultimate issue with choosing Embiid to build with over Simmons for the future. The All NBA big man cannot sustain a season in which he stays fully healthy for the regular season and is still refreshed enough to play at his best in the playoffs.
In order for Embiid to be ready for the playoffs and give the Sixers the best chance to compete for a championship, he must manage his load by resting in a relatively significant number of regular-season games. There is a give and take to this approach and there is no guarantee that it will mean he will stay healthy throughout a postseason run. Embiid is a better player than Simmons at this point in his career, but he is also the less available and durable player which makes him the less ideal choice in this potential decision.
Case for and against Simmons:
Ben Simmons has been a polarizing figure since he joined the league. He has produced at an All-Star level and been rightfully deemed a future MVP caliber player. Even though he is recognized as a star player that can get even better, the basketball community has made him the source of plenty of memes or jokes surrounding his lack of a jump shot and willingness to attempt three-point shots.
Additionally, many have claimed that the key to him unlocking the next level of his game is to improve his shot from three and outside the paint in general. And yes, if Simmons improves his shot, he will easily become an MVP level player in a short time, but even without a jump shot, he still has numerous advantages over Embiid as a basketball player.
First of all, Simmons can do everything else on the basketball court except shoot threes. The two-time All-Star uses his combination of strength, speed, and athleticism to score very efficiently in the paint. Simmons’ best tool is his playmaking, as he averages 8 assists and less than 4 turnovers a game.
Of course, playmaking goes a lot farther than just assists. Simmons has one of the highest basketball IQs in the game and possesses excellent vision on the court which gives him the ability to control the pace and tempo of the game and be the primary play initiator for the offense. Ben is a better playmaker, a more efficient scorer, a better team defender, a more versatile defender, and is generally more impactful on the offensive side than Embiid.
In both normal and effective field goal %, Simmons shoots at 58% which is significantly higher than Embiid’s efficiency. In terms of defense, Ben Simmons leads the NBA in steals per game with 2.1 but more importantly Simmons ranks higher than Embiid in defensive win shares and defensive box plus-minus this season. The versatility Simmons displays on the defensive side is valuable to the Sixers as he can guard every position on the court and still be just as effective.
Even though Embiid scores more points, Simmons has a bigger impact on the team’s overall scoring output as Simmons generates 33 points compared to Embiid’s 29 points off of their individual points per game combined with their assists stats. The lone fault in Simmons’ game is as previously stated in his shooting, but this hindrance can be addressed by surrounding Simmons with a team that fits his playstyle.
Both of these star players have elite skills and not very many significant flaws but Embiid’s major flaw outweighs Simmons’ flaw when it comes to choosing which player to build around for the future. Simmons has proven he is a durable player and is more available to play throughout a long season and less likely to get injured in the playoffs.
Additionally, in the games Simmons has played without Embiid, he has shown he can become an even better player, as his production output has increased by 3 more points, 2 more rebounds, and still at the same high assist rate and efficiency clip per game. When building a team, Simmons is naturally a better piece to build around because you can easily surround him with pieces to put him and the team in the best possible position to win.
Simmons would need another star guard who is an elite 3 level scorer and can shoot a lot of threes at a high rate. Additionally, the rotational pieces must be able to shoot the three well and compliment Simmons’ defensive versatility by playing physical defense on the perimeter and having a rim proctor in the middle. A couple of lob targets would also be a nice touch for Simmons to maximize his passing ability.
Ultimately, it is so much easier to build with a do it all player like Simmons who isn’t injury prone and can thrive with players that make up for his lone weakness and complement his strengths. Embiid’s trade value is most likely higher than Simmons as well because of the fact that he is regarded as a better player in the league right now which means the Sixers could get a little more in return for trading Embiid rather than Simmons.
In the end, the duo of Embiid and Simmons is talented enough on paper to compete but may end up failing by the end of the season which could cause the Sixers to make a fateful choice that will impact their future championship hopes.