One of the many impressive aspects of Joel Embiid’s monster 46-15-7-7 showing in the 115-109 win over the Lakers last week was the ease with which Ben Simmons seemed to blend into an offense that was running through the low post. He shot 8-for-13 from the field and had 10 assists, nine rebounds, and five steals while playing 39 of the game’s 48 minutes. All told, the Sixers outscored the Lakers by 24 points in the 28 minutes that Simmons and Embiid were on the court together. This came on the heels of a 109-105 win over the Clippers in which they were plus-22.
Simmons and Embiid both are fascinating players to watch from an individual standpoint, and the first month of the season has given us the chance to watch each develop his game. It has also given us a chance to watch their maturation as a tandem, with the past couple of weeks showcasing the potential synergy between the two. In their first five games, the Sixers were minus-6 with Simmons and Embiid on the court together. In the 10 games since, they are a combined plus-89, including plus-2 against the Warriors, when the duo logged their most court time together to date. In fact, in the Sixers’ two losses to Golden State, they actually played the Warriors even in the 47 minutes that Embiid and Simmons shared.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the court together. . .
A few more observations:
1) If you’d told Brett Brown and Bryan Colangelo at the start of the season that the Sixers would be heading into Thanksgiving week with a winning record, I suspect you would have been met with a hearty, “We’ll take it.” With 10 of 15 on the road and a murderous lineup of opponents, the ‘Moment’ easily could have taken a bit of time to arrive. As hard-won as their 8-7 record might be, it does not do a very good job of illustrating just how potent this new Sixers core has been.
Consider: Only three teams in the NBA have a five-man lineup that has outscored opponents by more than the plus-55 points the Sixers have posted when their current starting unit is on the court together. Those teams — the Rockets (plus-88), Wizards (plus-78), and Warriors (plus-75) — have combined to give the Sixers four of their seven losses. Another thing to consider is that each of those teams’ best units has been on the court together for nearly twice as many minutes as the Sixers’, due in large part to games missed by Embiid and JJ Redick, and Dario Saric’s delayed entry into the starting lineup.
2) Among the many areas you’d expect to see continued improvement out of this young Sixers team are in ball security and at the free-throw line.
Opponents are averaging 5.4 more free throws per game than the Sixers, the third-largest disparity in the NBA, behind only the Heat (minus-6.4) and Bucks (minus-5.5). The Sixers are also plus-3.3 in turnovers, worst in the league. Against the Warriors, the turnovers weren’t a significant factor — both teams finished with 12, a season-low for the Sixers — but the Warriors scored five more points at the free-throw line (17-for-20 vs. 12-for-16). Already, you can see signs of improvement. In their last nine games, the Sixers have averaged 24.6 free-throw attempts, up from 19.8 over their first six games.
3) In Saturday’s loss, the Sixers made the Warriors work like few teams have this season. Draymond Green logged more court time than he had in all but three of the Warriors’ previous 15 games. Klay Thompson’s 36:10 of action was his fifth-highest total of the season, as was Steph Curry’s 34:39.