Can Simmons and Embiid Coexist?

The NBA has dramatically transformed over the last few years. Analytics are driving a much more efficient game. More threes, deeper threes, less midrange, more layups. Everyone can shoot. Well, almost everyone.

Since being drafted with the number one pick in the 2016 draft, Ben Simmons has made 2 three pointers. Zion Williamson hit 4 in his debut! Normally, this would not be an issue. The Sixers could just surround Simmons with shooters, and he could control the paint, or dish it out to an open man. Seems like a simple solution, right? Not when you already have one of the best big men in the league, Joel Embiid. Embiid can shoot, but his strength, being 7 feet tall, is obviously in the paint. So, what do you do when your two best players are right next to each other? You have to adjust and either make do with what you have, or make roster changes.

The 76ers are a top-notch defensive team. They can run out a lineup with loads of defensive win shares, consisting of Joel Embiid (3rd), Al Horford (15th), Tobias Harris (19th), Josh Richardson (22nd), and Ben Simmons (28th). Oh, and they have one of the top young defenders in the league, steal artist Matisse Thybulle. The defense is not the issue. It’s the offense. The Sixers have shown flashes of what they can do, beating the Buck on Christmas Day 121-109, and the Lakers 108-91. They seem to have a switch they can flip when they are playing good teams. The problem is, that switch has not been used much, as the 76ers are currently the 6th seed in the East. This team was supposed to be battling the Bucks for the top seed. They weren’t supposed to be behind the Pacers.

The offense is the key to the confusion. Scoring a pathetic 108.7 points per game (23rd in the league), and making 10.9 threes per game (also 23rd), the 76ers offense has been a huge disappointment. It was assumed at the beginning of the season that this would be a defense-first team, but not to these proportions. This offense is not efficient. They don’t shoot enough threes, make enough threes, or spread the floor enough. The offense stalls often, and the turnovers. Oh, the turnovers. The 76ers are 14th in the league, averaging 14.8 turnovers per game, and they have the 5th most turnovers in the league late in the shot clock (4-7 seconds). And the numbers don’t even do the issue justice. Any Sixers fan who consistently watches their games will tell you how frustrating it is to see the dumb decisions made night in and night out. If you watch an entire Sixers game, you are almost guaranteed to see a pass that makes you roll your eyes.

The main issue of the Embiid-Simmons pairing is that they both thrive in the paint. The problem is, the current NBA thrives on spacing the floor to launch threes or get easy layups. You can’t properly space the floor if your two best player are both near the basket. This Sixers team would have been a powerhouse 10 years ago, but now? It’s very hard to see this offense being consistently effective.

Keep in mind, this can all change if the 76ers at least make it to the Finals. They have shown that this team can be great. They’ve beaten Milwaukee and Boston. They’ve played fantastic games against the Heat. If everything is running on all cylinders, this team is amazing. The whole reason this is a discussion is because the offense is lagging, and the team is inconsistent. The reason for doubt is that we see more of the team that loses to the Hawks in Atlanta than we do the team that tore apart the Bucks on Christmas. It’s easier to trust what you see than what you believe.

Another aspect to be considered: is this to be blamed on the player, or the coaching staff. As with most cases, the answer is probably somewhere in between, but is the coaching to blame enough that you make the move to get rid of Brett Brown? Being on the outside looking in, I can’t give an answer. I do know that the Sixers should at least consult the players and look into other options.

Now comes the hard part: if you are running the Sixers, do you keep Embiid and Simmons? Do you trade Embiid? Do you trade Simmons? You obviously can’t make that decision until the end of this season, but what if they play like we expected and make it to the Finals? Or what if they play like they do more often than not, and lose in the first or second round? Let’s say it reaches the point where it’s clear one of them needs to be traded, because it would be pretty boring if this article ended with both of them staying without at least exploring other options.

Embiid is 25. Simmons is 23. Embiid has injury concerns. Simmons does not. Embiid is an All-Star starter. Simmons is an All-Star reserve. Embiid can kind of shoot. Simmons can’t shoot. Do you keep Simmons and hope he learns to shoot, even just a little? Do you keep Embiid, and hope he can stay healthy? I don’t have the answer, but I know who does.

The other 29 NBA teams, the “market”, will decide who should be traded. The reason this is even a question is because we are splitting hairs here. They are both fantastic players. Whoever the 76ers can get better assets for should be traded. I strongly believe that if the Sixers properly work the market and get a good deal, they will have a legitimate contender. Either Simmons or Embiid, surrounded by Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, possibly Josh Richardson, and shooters? That sounds pretty scary. But there is a lot of unknown when it comes to trades. The pieces acquired are not a sure thing. But the Sixers don’t really have a choice. Whether it’s getting a new coach or choosing to build around one All-Star, as of now, something needs to change.