Why concerns about LeBron James' fit with Sixers are overblown

Why concerns about LeBron James' fit with Sixers are overblown

The conventional wisdom about LeBron James is that he automatically makes any team he’s on much better. His eight straight NBA Finals appearances suggest that’s an accurate perception.

However, with free agency officially getting underway Sunday at midnight, it’s worth analyzing how exactly he’d fit with the Sixers. 

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has covered James throughout his career, doesn’t think James would be the best match with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and company. 

“I would have to hear from Joel Embiid if I were LeBron James,” Windhorst said Friday on First Take. “I don’t see the basketball match for LeBron in Philadelphia. You would need Joel Embiid to be sitting at the table with LeBron and say, ‘I’m ready to go stand in the corner like you heeded Chris Bosh and Kevin Love to do over the last eight years’ to make this work.”

That would be a pretty radical change from Embiid. It also doesn’t seem like it would be necessary for him to totally shift his game to accommodate James the way Windhorst suggests.

James has never played with a dominant offensive post player like Embiid before. He’s played with guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O’Neal at the tail end of his career, Anderson Varejao and Joel Anthony, none of whom are in Embiid’s league as far as the ability to score in the post.

Embiid was second in the NBA last season with 9.1 post-up points per game. And his 0.97 points per possession on post-ups were in the 75th percentile for the league. The Sixers’ offense often revolved around him for a reason. While James is a player who needs a lot of the ball, he should be more than capable of adjusting to having a go-to scorer in the low post. In fact, given how gifted a passer he is, you’d think playing with Embiid would enhance his game, not be a reason to eliminate the Sixers as a possible destination.

Embiid did attempt 3.1 three-point shots per game last season, and though he said outside shooting is a part of his arsenal, his focus is on being “a beast inside." He wouldn’t have to drastically alter the way he plays if James came to Philadelphia.

“And then you have the reality that the two young perimeter players that the Sixers have, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, are guys that need the ball and cannot shoot,” Windhorst continued. “LeBron plays his best with guys who can play off the ball and can shoot. To me, while it’s very attractive as a concept, I don’t think basketball-wise it makes sense.”

This point is absolutely valid. James has historically thrived when surrounded by three-point shooters like Love and Kyle Korver. That’s one reason why a three-and-D guy like Mikal Bridges was an attractive player in the draft. Simmons’ usage rate of 23.5 percent last season would likely fall if he played with James, and the development of both his and Fultz’s jumpers would be crucial.

Still, if it’s best for the team, you’d think James might be willing to play off the ball more. He wouldn’t let offensive weapons like Simmons and Embiid go to waste.

“I think LeBron’s already kind of decided what his choices are here,” Windhorst said, “because I’ve talked to several teams who have requested meetings for LeBron, including some teams who I think have some pretty creative ideas, and they have been told, ‘No.’ So I think LeBron is probably pretty focused on Los Angeles or Cleveland, but I do think Philadelphia, if Joel Embiid was willing to sit down, I think LeBron would be willing to listen.”

The Sixers are definitely not the perfect fit for James. There are kinks they’d have to work out — remember the struggles of the 2010-11 Miami Heat, when James first teamed up with Bosh and Dwyane Wade? But a player as talented as James should have no problem thriving with Simmons and Embiid. To suggest Embiid would need to stand in the corner to make things work is absurd.

More on the Sixers

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

How the Sixers are trying to help Tobias Harris snap out of it

They say that shooters shoot.

Tobias Harris has been shooting plenty — they just haven’t been going down.

After going 0 for 11 from three on Tuesday night against the Cavs, Harris went 0 for 3 and 3 of 13 overall in the Sixers’ loss to the Magic in Orlando Wednesday (see observations).

The last three Harris hit was in the first quarter of the Sixers’ loss in Phoenix on Nov. 4. He’s missed his last 23 attempts since.

When Harris was acquired from the Clippers last season, he was shooting 43.4 percent from downtown in a healthy sample size.

So what the heck is going on?

“I'm not making shots, I'm not in a rhythm,” Harris said to reporters postgame. “That's it. Obviously, it's easier said than done but I'm going to find my rhythm and once I do those shots are going to be there and they're going to be able to be made. Until then, I'll watch film and see the looks I can get, see the easy ones I can get to, but when they're not going for me, get to the free throw line. 

“In the fourth quarter I thought that was two questionable whistles, a travel and offensive [foul]. So those are two turnovers that kind of affected our fourth quarter. But I just gotta find a rhythm. That's it.”

On top of missing, Harris just looks indecisive. During early parts of the season, he appeared to be passing up open shots. In his pregame availability before Tuesday’s win, Brett Brown made a point to talk about needing Harris to have a scorer’s mentality.

Over the last two games, Harris seems like he doesn’t know when to shoot the basketball. After shooting so poorly from the outside against Cleveland, in Orlando he appeared to just get caught in between while trying to drive to the basket more.

It just seems like Harris is in his own head.

“I think it's just human nature,” Brown said. “He wants to please, he wants to shoot the ball, he wants to score, we need him to score.”

Harris is an easy target for fan ire. GM Elton Brand gave up an awful lot to get him before last year’s trade deadline. During the summer, the Sixers gave Harris a five-year, $180 million deal — the richest in franchise history.

But to his credit, Harris hasn’t made any excuses. He faced the music Wednesday night after not playing well and not feeling well.

Brown mentioned Tuesday that Harris had been dealing with an illness. Harris didn’t want to take the easy way out and attribute that to anything.

“When I get out there and play, I'm playing,” Harris said. “I'm under the weather, yeah, but if I get out there and play, I believe I can go.”

Forget the big contract and disappointing start for a second — Harris is a worker. He’s worked on his game tirelessly to rise to the level he did last season in L.A. During the offseason, he stepped up as a leader that all of his teammates are eager and willing to follow. He’s been depended upon by the young players and veterans alike.

Now, it may be Harris who needs their support.

“Tobias has had great looks and he's a great player, great shooter,” Ben Simmons said. “I mean, at times, everybody gets down when they're not playing their best game. They know that they can do better. But he's one of those guys. He's always positive. And we all believe in him.”

The Sixers’ road trip continues Friday with a date with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is the site of Harris’ finest game as a Sixer. On Feb. 28 of last year, Harris poured in 32 points and led a tough road win without Joel Embiid.

Maybe the memory of that game will spark something in Harris.

If that doesn't work, what else can you really say?

“Keep shooting,” Brown said. “Don't listen to any of you guys. Don't read anything. Keep shooting.”

After all, shooters shoot.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers