The Philadelphia 76ers are riding youngsters Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and they are winning basketball games on a regular basis for the first time in four years. After their win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, they pulled their record to .500 for the first time since their record fell to 5-5 on Nov. 15, 2013 (coincidentally in a loss to the Hawks).
This offseason, they were a favorite to break out, with the last two No. 1 picks ready to debut and Embiid dominating last season in limited action. However, after three games they were 0-3 and got destroyed by the Toronto Raptors in the third, leading doubters to speculate that many were jumping the gun on the young Sixers. Since then, though, they have gone 4-1 and look like a team that should contend for a playoff spot.
The Sixers are winning with team-wide effort, but Simmons and Embiid are leading the way. Simmons is generating good shots for his teammates and dominating through his passing, while Embiid is imposing his will on both ends of the court.
In the win over Atlanta, the two combined for 40 points, 25 rebounds and 15 assists:
Ben Simmons’ Passing Impact
Simmons is already an incredible facilitator. When you combine that with the other things he does, he’s special. Through his first eight games, he has amassed 288 total points, rebounds and assists. Here’s how he compares with the best career starts since 1983-84, per Basketball-Reference.com:
Ben Simmons, y'all. pic.twitter.com/Iu9looveaZ
— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) November 2, 2017
Apart from Brandon Jennings, the list of names on that list is impressive. That portends exceptionally well for the Sixers’ young big man.
One thing he’s doing to help the Sixers is getting them better shots. First, he’s fifth in the league in potential assists (when a player takes a shot off a pass). The only players ahead of him are Russell Westbrook, James Harden, John Wall and LeBron James. Again, that’s prestigious company.
Where the passes are going is important, too, and you can see that when you look at the Sixers’ on/off stats. According to NBA.com, when Simmons is on the court, only 10.6 percent of their shots are coming from the mid-range area of the court. Meanwhile, 36.4 percent of their shots are coming from deep and 42.4 percent of their points are in the paint.
When Simmons is on the bench, the percent of shots from mid-range goes up to 15.1, shots from 3 plunge to 30.8 and only 40.9 percent of the Sixers’ points come within the paint. While he leads the team in assists, the team’s unassisted field goals also sink from 38.7 to 29.1 when he’s on the bench because he creates 70.5 percent of his own buckets. Simmons is, simply put, the best shot creator the Sixers have — and he’s rapidly emerging as one of the best in the league.
His court vision is extraordinary for a player who has only one year of college and only eight games as a pro under his belt. How many rookies are going to make this pass?:
Joel Embiid’s All-Around Dominance
Given Embiid’s dominance on both ends of the court, the Sixers are even more impressive. Bear in mind that he missed the game against the Raptors because he was sitting out the second night of a back-to-back.
The Sixers’ offensive rating with him on the court this year is 7.4 points per 100 possessions better. Their defense is 11.7 points better. Their net rating is 19.1 points better when Embiid is playing. Because he’s still on a minutes restriction, his per-game numbers don’t accurately reflect his impact when he’s on the court. His per-36 numbers are impressive: 27.2 points, 13.4 boards, 4.5 assists and 1.7 blocks. He’s doing that while logging a 59.7 true shooting percentage.
For his career, he’s the only player in history to average 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks per 36 minutes.
He’s able to hit the 3-ball (34.4 percent for his career), but he scores mostly like a traditional big man. According to Synergy Sports Tech, 38.4 percent of his possessions are in post-ups and 9.9 percent are as the roll man. He can also put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop.
Simmons is a point guard with the size of a big man. Embiid is a big man with the skills of a guard.
The two together make for arguably the big-man tandem (say, 6-10 and taller) with the best perimeter skills in the history of the league, and as they get accustomed to playing together, they’re going to be even harder to stop.
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