Game Preview | For Two Young Stars, Time to Stump

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

Throughout Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' first two and a half months as 76ers teammates, we’ve seen seen countless examples of how well they complement each other.

As their combined 9.9 net rating in roughly 600 total minutes indicates, the two young talents make for a valuable duo. Nearly 41 percent of Embiid’s assisted field goals have come from the hands of Simmons, while Simmons himself, in a less quantifiable way, has reaped the rewards of the space Embiid creates and the attention the big man demands.

If you’re looking for data that underscores the positive ripple effects Embiid has had on Simmons this year, we can offer this: Simmons’ offensive rating is at its best, 108.9, when teamed with Embiid.

The latest high-impact moment provided by the tandem came late in the fourth quarter of the Sixers’ Christmas Day victory over the New York Knicks. On baseline corner inbound play, Simmons found Embiid open on the sideline, where the center promptly drained a pivotal 3-pointer. The basket was pretty much the afternoon’s dagger. 

For as much as Embiid and Simmons have backed one another between the lines, their mutual support has been ever-present on social media, especially as of late, with stumping for this year’s All-Star Game now underway.

@BenSimmons25 was the first to get in the act, pushing out this giffed-up tweet Wednesday night.

It didn’t take @JoelEmbiid long to return the favor.

When it comes to All-Star voting, every tweet, retweet, or reply to a tweet that includes the hashtag #NBAVOTE, plus a player’s first and last name, or official Twitter handle, counts as a vote for that particular player.

A season ago, Embiid narrowly missed making the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, despite a strong push. This year, with a new format that revolves around player captains hand-picking their teams from a pool of All-Stars, Simmons is attempting to become the first rookie to qualify for an All-Star Game since Blake Griffin achieved the feat in 2011.

Regardless of the setting, whether it’s on the hardwood, Twittersphere, or elsewhere, the man responsible for the development of Embiid and Simmons, both separately and together, likes where their relationship is at.

“I think it’s growing,” Brett Brown said earlier this week. “It’s growing in real time, it’s growing organically.”

With the Sixers counting on Embiid and Simmons to factor prominently in the franchise's rise, the interplay between the two sub-25 year olds - on multiple fronts - is something that Brown is constantly keeping an eye on. 

“All great players need some help, and the recognition that nothing can get done in this league alone is clear to us by several examples,” said Brown. “I think they understand that, they respect what each of them needs to do in order to help one another, and collectively, great things can happen here.”

The third overall selection in the 2014 draft, Embiid, as of Saturday morning, boasted the sixth-highest Player Impact Estimate in the league, ranking behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook - a collection of NBA champions, Olympians, All-Stars, and MVPs.

Simmons, meanwhile, has accounted for 16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.9 steals through the first 33 games of his career. No rookie has ever produced those averages, while there have only been three players overall league history to do so prior to the 2017-2018 season (Magic Johnson, Fat Lever, and Larry Bird; Westbrook is currently putting up 24.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 10.0 apg, and 2.1 spg).

Embiid and Simmons are vying to give the Sixers two representatives in the same All-Star Game for the first time since 2002, when Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutumbo appeared in the exhibition, held that winter at The Center.

Embiid is not scheduled to play Saturday in Denver, where the Sixers will begin a year-ending back-to-back set. The center is on track to suit up Sunday in Phoenix.

Opponent Outlook:

Like the Sixers, the Denver Nuggets (19-16) is an organization with young talent aiming to take its next step. Heading into Saturday’s tilt at Pepsi Center, Denver placed sixth in the Western Conference. Skilled big man Nikola Jokic has led the way for the Nuggets this season, pacing his club in scoring (16.2 ppg), rebounding (10.1 rpg), and assists (4.5 apg). On the offensive end of the floor, Denver is one of the league’s more balanced teams. The Nuggets rank sixth in 3-pointers (391), and third in paint scoring (48.7 ppg).

Follow Along:

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