Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both rejected the notion that they’re incapable of playing together effectively Saturday at All-Star Weekend in Chicago.
”I think it's BS, because when you look at the last couple years, the last two years that we've been playing together, it's not a problem,” Embiid told reporters, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “This year it's only been a problem because our offense has struggled.
"It's definitely going to be better after the All-Star break. I mean, just look at the last two years, what we've been able to do. I think it can work, and it's going to work."
The Sixers were indeed very good when the pairing shared the floor the past two years. Lineups with Embiid and Simmons had net ratings of plus-15.5 in 2017-18 and plus-7.8 in 2018-19. This season, that number has dropped to plus-1.3.
"It takes time," Simmons said. "Not everything is perfect. Not everything works right away. I love playing with Joel. I think he's an amazing talent, a guy I respect for his game, and I know he feels the same way about me. We continue to go the right way. There's so many different things that we haven't tried. We've got a lot of talent. It's scary how good we can be."
On Feb. 5, Embiid suggested he was having to detract from his own offensive game for the greater good.
“How we played last year, obviously a different structure, the ball movement was better, and this year we've got different players,” he said. “I’ve sacrificed a lot, trying to make everybody feel comfortable, and that's normal.
“We've all got to sacrifice and if it means taking less shots just to make sure everyone is happy and keep winning, then that's what we've got to do. But at the same time, we've still got to understand what's going on around us and how we can help each other be better.”
Pertinent statistics don’t seem to support the idea that Embiid has had to sacrifice much. While his usage rate has dropped from 32.7 to 30.3, his post-ups per game are identical (8.1) and his three-point attempts per 36 minutes are nearly the same (4.6 this year, 4.4 last year).
However, until Brett Brown’s major adjustment Tuesday night vs. the Clippers, he’d been in a starting lineup with Al Horford, a pairing that hasn’t been beneficial for either player. Embiid and Horford are the only Sixers' two-man lineups with at least 400 minutes together to have a negative net rating (minus-1.1) and have been poor offensively.
As for Embiid and Simmons, the two were strong against the Clippers, both personally and as a combination. They complemented each other well in the high and low post as Embiid had 26 points and nine rebounds and Simmons posted 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Brown said it was “arguably the best game those two have paired up with” since he started coaching them.
Simmons will be on Team LeBron and Embiid will be on Team Giannis for Sunday night’s All-Star Game.
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