Welcome to NBA Jam week on NBA.com where all week long we're celebrating the remarkable collection of star duos throughout the NBA and viewing the upcoming season through the prism of what these duos mean entering 2019-20. Today, we examine Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
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The Philadelphia 76ers enter the 2019/20 season with lofty expectations, following their busy off-season. With Jimmy Butler departing for Miami, the 76ers bolstered their roster with the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, coupled with the re-signing of Tobias Harris, giving them one of the most talented starting fives in the league.
While their depth on paper is formidable, they will ultimately go as far as Simmons and Embiid can take them, with the two young All-Stars primed for a big season in Philly as they look to take the leap, following their second-round exit in the playoffs last season.
On talent alone, the star duo have the tools to become one of the most formidable pairings in the league, but the looming questions over their fit and development must first be answered before they can lay claim to the Eastern Conference crown.
Can Simmons and Embiid co-exist?
For as good as Simmons and Embiid are, the argument exists that the overlap in their games creates an awkward fit on court.
It's no secret that Embiid does the most damage in the paint...and the same goes for Simmons, resulting in the pair occupying similar spaces on the floor and with Simmons' lack of shooting, the spacing can become cramped, allowing teams to pack the paint and limit their effectiveness.
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Many point to Simmons' breakout playoff game last season, in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets as a prime example of his offensive potential without Embiid.
The Aussie poured in a playoff career-high 31 points (11-of-13 FG, 9-of-11 FT), nine assists, four rebounds, three blocks, and two steals, leading the 76ers to a 131-115 win to take a crucial 2-1 series lead and steal back home-court advantage.
With the lane wide open, Simmons was able to wreak havoc in the paint, with the Aussie finding plenty of room as the roll man in the pick-and roll, using all 6-foot-10 of his frame as an effective screener.
Sixers finally use Simmons as a screener and look at the result. Even w/ Scott as a ballhandler. Weakside can't help with Redick in the corner. Russell not used to that rotation in the dunker spot. Easy roll for a layup. Philly needs to go to this late vs small lineup. pic.twitter.com/3zpJBYuGUY- Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) April 19, 2019
Meanwhile, Embiid, described by coach Brett Brown as the 76ers' 'crown jewel' has the tools to become a legit MVP candidate this season as their no. 1 option. Last season Embiid averaged a career-high 27.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, recording at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in 28 games.
While the 25-year-old hasn't fallen in love with shooting threes, hitting a career-low 30 percent from downtown last season, the presence of Al Horford and Josh Richardson could well be the key to making the Simmons x Embiid combination work.
Whichever way you slice it, the 76ers are simply a much better team with both young studs on the floor.
The 76ers outscored opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions game during the regular season with Simmons and Embiid together on the floor, with that number climbing to 19.5 points per 100 posessions during the post-season.
Simmons' jump shot
The Instagram clips of Simmons firing way from deep have been aplenty this summer and it appears that we could see the Aussie add that arrow to his bow.....or at least attmempt to, as he continues to expand his game.
Coach Brett Brown says that we will see less of Simmons in the dunker spot this season and more of him shooting threes, which will no doubt help give Embiid the space he needs in the paint to operate.
"You're not going to see me put him [in the dunker spot] at the start of the year. I want to give him a chance to be spaced," Brown said, per PhillyVoice's Kyle Neubeck.
"You're probably going to see him in one of the corners, but I'm going to start there. We're going to encourage him to shoot threes and we're going to encourage him ... if he sees a straight-line drive, take off and eat it up," Brown said. "I think I can help him use the space in both of those ways."
If the Aussie can muster a reliable jumper this season or at least leverage the threat of shooting from beyond the paint, the 76ers are going to give teams plenty of headaches.
Philly's gignatic defence
Philly have a chance to become the league's best defensive team and it starts with Simmons and Embiid.
Don't be surprised if the pair finish the season on one of the All-Defensive teams, with Embiid a realistic chance to win Defensive Player of the Year.
During the regular season, the 76ers were 5.6 points per 100 possessions better off defensively with Embiid on the court, with that number jumping to a wild 27.1 points per 100 possessions during the postseason.
While the conversation surrounding Simmons focuses on what he can and can't do offensively, the same can't be said for his defence as he quietly morphs into one of the best defenders at his position.
How many point guards can chase smaller guards around screens, matchup with the NBA's best small forwards and meet the league's best big men at the rim?
Wait, that sounds like the Defensive Player of the Year.
While Simmons is still a while away from becoming that player, his athletic 6-foot-10 frame allows him the versatility to do it all, with the safety of having Embiid protecting the paint, forming an unstoppable NBA Jam duo defence.
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