Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid says he loves playing with Ben Simmons, but can they make it work?

Things are happening in Philadelphia.

While chatter and rumours regarding All-Star guard Ben Simmons' future with the Philadelphia 76ers have been an underlying theme of the NBA's offseason, those talks moved to the forefront of discussions after the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey reported that Simmons no longer wants to be with the franchise and does not plan to report to training camp.

From there, more reports surfaced, including Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports saying that a rift had been escalating between Simmons and his All-Star teammate, Joel Embiid, forcing the 76ers hand into choosing one or the other.

Embiid, who recently signed a supermax extension to remain in Philadelphia through the 2026-27 season, had undoubtedly seen enough, as he took to Twitter to refute reports of a schism between him and Simmons.

While Embiid managed to say plenty within Twitter's 280-character limit, the second part of his message stands out most, as he declared that "I love playing with Ben. Stats don't lie. He's an amazing player and we all didn't get the job done … I hope everyone is back (because) we know we're good enough to win."

But how much truth is there to Embiid's declaration?

Whether or not Embiid truly 'loves' playing with Simmons is a matter of his personal opinion, and there's no reason to accuse Embiid of sharing a falsehood on a public forum. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why Embiid genuinely loves having Simmons as his teammate.

In Simmons' rookie season, Embiid earned the first of an ongoing streak of four consecutive All-Star appearances. Related: Philadelphia has made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, compiling a record of 195-114 (.631) during the Embiid-Simmons era.

To break that number down even further, StatMuse shared the 76ers' winning percentage (regular season and playoffs) over the last four seasons when both Embiid and Simmons suit up.

The social copy reads that "stats don't lie," a direct reference to Embiid's declaration, and while wins and losses are ultimately the most important stat, it begs the question of whether or not more advanced numbers support the duo being formidable.

According to NBA.com Stats, the 76ers posted a net rating of +15.5, outscoring opponents by nearly 16 points per 100 possessions over the 1,164 minutes that Embiid and Simmons shared the floor during the regular season. Those numbers only begin to tell the story, as the on/off figures for Embiid and Simmons, specifically, tell the story even more.

Philadelphia 76ers advanced numbers, 2020-21 regular season
LINEUP OFF RTG DEF RTG NET RTG
Embiid and Simmons on 118.2 102.8 15.5
Embiid on, Simmons off 114.1 112.2 1.9
Simmons on, Embiid off 105.6 109.3 -3.8

The regular season is one thing, but what about the playoffs?

The top-seeded Sixers' title hopes ended in disappointment, and while it's no secret that Simmons fell short of the expectations placed upon an All-Star in his third playoff appearance, averaging 9.9 points while attempting 6.4 field goals and shooting 33.3 percent from the free throw line in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the advanced numbers again support the potency of the one-two punch of him and Embiid during the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers advanced numbers, 2021 Playoffs
LINEUP OFF RTG DEF RTG NET RTG
Embiid and Simmons on 124.1 105.4 18.8
Embiid on, Simmons off 101.1 104.4 -3.4
Simmons on, Embiid off 107.0 112.2 -5.2

A closer look shows that while the Sixers barely managed to stay afloat during the regular season with lineups that solely featured Embiid, they were unable to do so in the postseason. This makes sense for multiple reasons, one being that the playoffs bring better opponents and more focused scouting, the other being the fact that Embiid suffered a torn meniscus in Game 4 of the opening round and played the final seven games of the playoffs while hobbled.

And Philadelphia still had a chance to advance, which brings us to the final part of Embiid's declaration.

Are the Sixers good enough to win, as Embiid said? Assuming the 27-year-old is referring to the ultimate prize of an NBA title, it's worth a reminder that this team really wasn't that far off in 2021. Last season, the Sixers finished first in the Eastern Conference with a 49-23 record despite the fact that Embiid and Simmons missed a combined 35 games due to injury and the league's health and safety protocols.

Credit is owed to the Atlanta Hawks for displaying the resolve to outlast the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but Philadelphia had plenty of chances to take command of the series, relinquishing multiple double-digit leads and dropping Game 7 down the stretch at home.

Following that loss, Embiid cited a specific play in which Simmons passed up an opportunity at the rim as a turning point, adding fuel to the fire of a potential rift between the two stars. Embiid's frustration following a Game 7 loss is understandable, but his tweet months later doubles down on the fact that the entire team was accountable for their season's disappointing end.

Whether or not it's been manufactured through narratives, is the damage between Embiid, Simmons and the 76ers irreparable? That's a question that only time will tell the answer to.

If they do decide to give it another try, maybe we shouldn't count this duo out.

The numbers back their potency and with plenty of room for improvement, they might be closer to the ultimate prize than we realize.

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