Are the Philadelphia 76ers bound for a breakup?
In 2013, which now feels like decades ago, Sam Hinkie took over for the Philadelphia 76ers with one concept in mind, “Trust The Process.” The plan was to lose and lose a lot. Taking advantage of the NBA’s lottery rules at the time that gave the worst team in the league substantially higher odds at a top-3 pick.
That would mean a higher chance to get generational talents on the roster.
By now, we all know that the results of Hinkie’s experiment were the superstar duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid the third pick in the 2014 draft gave the 76ers a franchise center. A bruiser with a developing post-game, great defensive abilities, and a dangerous perimeter game that suited him to the modern era.
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Simmons came around shortly after as the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, a menacing 6-foot-10 player with passing abilities akin to Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Simmons had all the makings of a franchise player except for the lack of a jump shot.
As the rest of the roster filled out around the duo, playoff appearances came as well. First, making the playoffs in 2018 and following it up with appearances in 2019 and one this season. When a team drafts a duo of superstars like Philadelphia did, the goal is not just the playoffs but championships too.
For all the newfound success Simmons and Embiid have given the 76ers, it hasn’t always been smooth. Specifically, over the past two seasons, the Simmons-Embiid duo has shown more flaws than anything. Simmons often works best in transition leading the break with the ball in his hands and with shooters around him. Meanwhile, Embiid is a monster in the halfcourt dominating the paint and playing well as a star from the post.
This season after marquee moves like adding Josh Richardson, retaining Tobias Harris, and adding Al Horford, many thought the 76ers were title contenders, but with the lack of strong outside shooting this Philly roster has only gone on to highlight the problems of the Simmons-Embiid duo.
Head coach Brett Brown hasn’t fixed the problems either, even his recent attempt at playing Ben Simmons at power forward while inserting strong shooter Shake Milton into the starting lineup has failed. Now with Ben Simmons out for likely the rest of the season due to an injury on his left knee, we’ve seen the first glimpses at a break-up for this duo. One that could become longer than just this season.
The Philadelphia 76ers without Ben Simmons
With the loss of Simmons, the 76ers have had to pivot their entire rotation to account for his loss. It’s not ideal when considering the strengths that Simmons does give the team as a playmaker and defender but it has opened up some possibilities of what a Simmons-less Sixers team could look like.
Through two games without Ben Simmons, the 76ers hold a record of 1-1 which ultimately is a very small sample size since Joel Embiid left the team’s game against Portland with an ankle injury early in the second quarter.
In what Philadelphia did show in the small sample of Joel Embiid without Simmons so far was that the team wasn’t much better or worse but had potential. With a lineup of Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid spacing still wasn’t optimal for the 76ers but there were lineup variations where it improved.
With Simmons being out of the game there were more minutes to give to shooters on the team’s bench like Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson, and Furkan Korkmaz. In the lone game with Embiid and no Simmons against the Orlando Magic, those players didn’t shot particularly well but their past performances indicate that won’t always be the case.
The interesting thing about losing Simmons was how well the team’s frontcourt was able to initiate the offense alongside Shake Milton playing as the lead guard. The team’s offense had a clear balance in playmaking by having Milton make plays in pick-and-roll action, while Horford could dish out passes from the elbow, and Embiid could kick passes out from the post.
That type of balance just didn’t happen when Simmons was on the court because he played his best with the ball and his hands and wasn’t a shooting threat off the ball to allow others to make plays.
That means there’s reason to believe that when Philadelphia’s shooters begin to knock down shots that the team could insert more shooting without Simmons and possibly play better on offense than they did for much of this season.
What it could mean for Philly’s future
With Joel Embiid’s ankle injury already being discussed as a minor one as he was able to return to the team’s bench on his free will chances are we’re going to see much more of Joel Embiid solo show. If the team performs well with Embiid and no Simmons, then there could be a decision for the 76ers management to make in the future.
The question would become, do they roll with Joel Embiid who plays great basketball without Ben Simmons, or do they take advantage of Embiid’s strong play to move him and bank on the upside of Simmons? Of course, the team could try again with the duo, but the clock seems to be ticking on their time together.
Both avenues have their advantages and flaws. The case for Embiid is that when he’s on he can be one of the most dominant forces in the entire league, unstoppable from the post and the paint. Then, of course, there are questions about his injury history, his conditioning and motor, and the fact that he’s older than Simmons at 26.
For Ben Simmons, the idea would be to bank on the younger prospect with more upside, surround him with complementary players and let him run the show but then Simmons has his own injury history, and still questions about if he will ever develop a perimeter game.
There have been recent reports suggesting the Simmons could be the one on the way out. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com suggested that executives around the league the Sixers will eventually have to choose between the two.
Whatever happens, it safe to say this offseason will be yet another in a series of franchise deciding offseasons for the 76ers. What exactly happens with the team all falls upon the shoulders of just how far Joel Embiid can take them.