Build Around Embiid or Simmons?: A Reality the 76ers Will Have to Face This Offseason

It wasn’t so long ago that in the coined phrase  “Trust the Process” could be heard on every street corner in Philadelphia. Regardless of your opinion on tanking and the way the 76ers went about it, they have two top 15 players in the NBA, and have become perennial playoff contenders.

The new dilemma the franchise faces is getting the team to the next level. Many media members and basketball analysts point to head coach Brent Brown as the reason the 76ers have underachieved. Maybe he’s just not the guy to coach these guys up to the next level, and the room needs a new voice as his message is falling on deaf ears.

We could point to the front office with the lack luster free agency decisions of paying max dollars to old Al Horford and good but not great Tobias Harris, while losing an essential piece in J.J. Reddick, and Jimmy Butler (Embiid’s favorite teammate) to the Miami Heat, a team that could easily take out the 76ers in the playoffs. While all of these are certainly contributing factors to the underachieving 76ers, I feel the biggest issue with the team is the overall construction of the team.  

The two building blocks, the faces of the years worth of “trusting the process,” Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons simply do not fit together. Embiid at his very best, is a back to the basket, throwback type of big who should be on the block dominating in a small ball league. However with the construction of the team, and lack of shooting around him, the paint is closed off and Embiid is met with double teams often as Simmons presents zero threat to shoot it from outside. This allows the defense to collapse without fear and as a result we have seen Embiid drift out to the 3 point line often to attempt to one space the floor for Simmons, and acclimate himself to the modern pace and space league. While Embiid isn’t terrible in this role, in the same breath it diminishes his value. With Embiid standing 30 feet from the rim, it allows opposing defenses to take a sigh of relief knowing their job just got easier not having to battle down low with dominant frame and skillset in which they can’t match up with. 

The ideal system to run with a player of Embiid’s ice and skillset is the 4-out, which was ran to perfection with prime Dwight Howard in Orlando during the late 2000’s. Surrounding Embiid with skilled playmakers that can shoot is the exact type of players that should not only max out Embiid’s worth, but also the team success.

Ben Simmons, 6’10 point forward should be playing in a system very much similar to the one the Bucks implemented around Giannis Antetokounmpo. We have seen the benefits the Greek Freak has enjoyed since they went all in on him and his play style. The same should be true for Simmons as he isn’t quite at Antetokounmpo’s level but he’s the closest comparison in the league today. 

Simmons should be surrounded with 4 shooters, spacing the floor allowing Simmons to attack the rim with ease and kick out when the defense collapses. Currently with the 76ers, Embiid who can shoot the 3 but isn’t ideal, and Al Horford who is in the same boat, contest the paint, limiting Simmons ability to score and create. 

So the 76ers front office is going to need to face the most difficult decision the franchise has had, trade Simmons and roll the dice with dominant but injury prone Joel Embiid, or do they trade Embiid for a bunch of shooters and wings to space the floor for a 5 out system for Simmons to thrive in? 

While I love old school, back to the basket, post up basketball, the painfully obvious move here is to trade Embiid and build around Simmons. Outside of the game fading out the 7 foot centers, Embiid has never been reliable. The best ability is availability and Embiid misses too much time with injuries to be trusted with being the sole building block. Embiid’s time on the shelf with injuries have given us a small glimpse of what Simmons can do on his own with a cleared out lane.

With Embiid off the court, Simmons attacks down hill more often and pushes the pace to get easy fast break points that they simply don’t get when Embiid is one of the five on the hardwood. Simmons echoed these same thoughts to reporters on February 1st in Boston when he said “I think I’ve figged it out. I’m pretty hard to guard downhill, especially when I’m trying to get into my package in terms of handles.” 

In a stretch of games that Embiid missed this season, Simmons numbers have increased in every offensive category. According to Statemuse, Simmons is averaging 19.2 ppg (+4.3) 59.1 FG% (+2.8) 14.7 FGA (+3.9) 8.7 RPG (+1.2), but a decrease in assists, which are down to 7.2 (-1.6).

These numbers will only improve as a 5-out system is implemented with knock down shooters on the floor at all time with Simmons. The 76ers could slide Horford and his abysmal contract back to center, his natural position, and keep Harris at one of the forward spots, while adding two more shooters to the rotation. In hindsight two players they lost to free agency last season, Reddick and Butler would be perfect in this scenario, but there are plenty of 3-D players to land. Plus the haul they would get for Embiid, in terms of draft picks and NBA players should make it that much easier to build around Simmons without falling out of contention in a weak Eastern Conference.

With all that said, there is one cure to all of this gossip about having to shake things up in the city of brotherly love, and that is to go out there and dominate like they have the ability to do, all the way to the NBA Finals. In no way do I see this happening because of all the aforementioned issues, but who knows the NBA is up for grabs this season.


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