CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were hit with questions about their fit and chemistry during All-Star weekend in Chicago. It’s not surprising. It’s a narrative that’s dominated all other Sixers storylines.
Both players talked about their mutual respect for each other and their relationship was evident during one especially playful moment in Sunday’s game.
After the team’s first practice coming out of the break Wednesday, Brett Brown said he expected his All-Star duo to have each other’s back.
“It kind of is newsworthy because there's so much talk about, can they coexist? How do they play together? Are we gonna play fast? Are we gonna play slow? … To be in Chicago and to talk about one another in that environment on different teams, it didn't surprise me.”
Lost in the pair getting along so swimmingly during All-Star weekend is that their chemistry on the court was perhaps the best we’d ever seen it the Sixers’ win over the Clippers last Tuesday. Both players were dominant as L.A. struggled with the size and skill of Embiid and Simmons.
One of the reasons for that dominance is an action called a snug pick-and-roll. You’ve likely seen it run sporadically over the last couple seasons. It’s essentially a pick-and-roll on the low block with Simmons as the ball handler and Embiid as the screener.
Because there isn’t a ton of space to operate in that action, the Sixers hadn’t had much success running it. It requires chemistry and decisiveness. Against the Clippers, it was easily the most we’ve seen it. More importantly, it was the most success Embiid and Simmons have had with it.
It’s sort of a microcosm for them on the court. Things weren’t going to click overnight because they’re not a seamless fit. It was always going to take time.
But that game provided hope that this pairing could work yet.
“We've always touched it and at times it really was maybe one of the lowest efficient plays that we ran,” Brown said. “And so we persevered. I still think when you fast forward this thing out and they're both like 30 and 28, that's going to be a primary look for those two. ... We'll continue to look at that, but it's deeper than just sort of an action. I think growing those two with that spirit and different places on the floor interests me a lot.”
Everything with the Sixers begins and ends with Embiid and Simmons. No matter what moves are made around them in the future, it will likely all come down to how they play with each other.
Even their teammates know it.
“Those two are the guys that keep this thing moving and they have to really embrace each other and have that respect for each other’s games,” Tobias Harris said. “Their games are different, their games are different styles, but in a way they both do complement each other on the floor — I’ve said that since the day I got here and I truly believe it. When they are out there and they are both dominant, like the Clipper game, you can just see it’s like they played together since they were young kids. … Those two, especially and most importantly, have to continue to embrace that night in and night out for us to be a successful team.”
This season hasn’t gone as the Sixers would’ve hoped when Brown brazenly said he wanted the No. 1 seed in the East. That’s not happening — and the two seed isn’t exactly within the Sixers' grasp, either.
Still, for all the talk about being an imperfect fit and coexisting, Embiid and Simmons have 27 games to get this thing right and lead the Sixers on a deep playoff run.
“I would be lying if I didn't say I was thrilled to read what I read [from the All-Star Game], but it doesn't surprise me,” Brown said. “I just think it validates to the rest of the sort of basketball hoop world that life's not as bad as sometimes it's made out to be here in Philadelphia.”
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