Embiid, Horford to Form Compelling Combo
The 76ers were already doing pretty well for themselves by having one All-Star big man on the roster.
Now they've got two, thanks to a dramatic signing with landscape-changing potential this past summer.
There's no doubt that in Joel Embiid and Al Horford, the Sixers boast an Opening Night frontline that figures to be among the most intriguing in the NBA.
The union consists of two multifaceted, highly savvy talents, each individually capable of flexing his muscles on the interior, while also possessing the versatility and finesse to play away from the basket.
As for what to expect from Embiid and Horford in tandem, the question will probably be easier to answer in time.
At this stage, the context clues are finite, limited to two preseason games (Guongzhou and Washington), plus the Sixers' annual Blue x White Scrimmage. Nevertheless, it is a sample size that yielded a handful of basic takeaways, the most obvious of which being role definition.
When sharing the court, Embiid will act as the Sixers' primary five man, with Horford occupying the four. Even though Horford has plenty of experience at the four from previous stops in Atlanta and Boston, it wasn't his main assignment, at least recently.
Subsequently, every opportunity he and Embiid had to feel each other out this preseason was significant.
"I think that with big-bigs, it's especially important," Brett Brown said last week.
"When you go big-big, I think that takes time, spatially as much as anything. I think all [reps] add up."
The significance of spacing isn't lost on Embiid and Horford, either. On the first day of practice, they each individually alluded to the subject during separate media availabilities.
So how did it work in the preseason?
When the Sixers had the ball, they deployed Embiid and Horford a few different ways.
Sometimes, Embiid would be stationed in the lane, with Horford drifting out to a corner. Other times, Embiid might be at the foul line, looking for Horford inside. Or, perhaps both bigs would be at the elbows to help generate actions through the high post.
On the opposite end of the floor, it should be fascinating to watch Embiid and Horford - a pair of All-Defensive Team selections - grow their partnership. Both are capable of guarding fours and fives.
Horford's sound, steady presence, meanwhile, will offer the Sixers a dependable secondary line of rim protection when Embiid is in position to try and make an aggressive play.
"It's been good to be on his side now, and watch him be so dominant, how he can be and kind of takeover the game," Horford said over the weekend. "I'm excited to start this new journey, and figure out how to make the most of my time with him".
What quickly and clearly became apparent in the preseason is that Embiid and Horford give the Sixers a substantial rebounding advantage, particularly on the offensive glass. It's not outside the realm of possibilities to think this duo could account for 20 or more boards per contest, and provide the Sixers with a major edge in second-chance offense.
(The Sixers manufactured a league-best 19.1 second-chance points / 100 possessions in the preseason, nearly 4.0 points better than Houston, the next team on the list.)
For as compelling of a combination as Embiid and Horford will form, it's also worth noting the value that Horford will have on his own. The vet was one of the most effective five men in the NBA a season ago.
The Sixers now have the luxury of turning to the 33-year old when Embiid either needs a breather, or a night off. That's quite a perk.
"I feel like it's going to be a different story than last year," said Embiid. "We're going to be a little better in that area, especially when he takes over when I'm not playing."
But it's when Embiid and Horford are together that the 76ers believe the team will be at its best. Their evolution together will indeed be a compelling subplot to the new season.