Watch a video of any blowhard with a microphone or read an article from any keyboard warrior that follows the NBA and they likely have a take on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
There are common refrains.
They can't play together. Their skillsets are incompatible. They don't like each other. You need to break them up if you want to win a title.
While there are versions of the truth in there and reputable reporters alluding to the possibility, it's too soon to start talking about trading Embiid or Simmons.
It's true that Embiid and Simmons are not a perfect fit, but that doesn't mean they can't be a fit at all. These things take time. Embiid is 25. Simmons is 23. They've both been All-Stars the last two seasons. It would be impossible to get anything even coming close to equal value for either player.
It's not something the Sixers appear eager to do, either.
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"It's a problem a lot of GMs would like to have, if it's a problem," GM Elton Brand said Friday. "Two All-Stars … and we just need to figure out how those pieces fit. I think you can play very fast when you have Ben. The playoffs are going to slow down, and you have a dominant post player you can play through also. I think it's a good problem to have, if it's a problem."
On offense, both players do their most damage in the paint. Embiid wants to play methodical in the post while Simmons wants to play at a breakneck pace to pressure defenses and finish in transition. It hasn't always made for the smoothest offense. You can call that incompatibility if you'd like. I look at it as growing pains - and perhaps a personnel issue around them.
With his size, Embiid always had the look of a potentially dominant post player. He's been able to focus on improving that skill set, and is now a three-time All-Star. In contrast, Simmons' role wasn't as defined coming out of LSU. A college four, Simmons was given the ball and made a point guard. Though it's a role he's relished, the adjustment hasn't always been smooth.
While that adjustment has not included the incorporation of a consistent jump shot, we've seen Simmons begin to attack the space defenses give him, similar to reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"I mean, I think I've kind of figured it out," Simmons said to reporters in Boston on Feb. 1. "I'm pretty hard to guard downhill, especially when I'm trying to get into my package in terms of handles."
Their offensive games overlap, but what they provide defensively is unparalleled. Embiid has been a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year in the past. If Simmons isn't one this season, you might as well get rid of the award. How many teams can boast one player of that caliber, let alone two?
While the NBA has seen an uptick in scoring as the three-point shot has become king, defense is still where games are won in the playoffs. In last season's seven-game series against Toronto, six of the seven games saw the loser held to 96 points or less. The Raptors, of course, went on to win the NBA Finals.
The issues in the development of the Embiid-Simmons pairing aren't all on Embiid and Simmons.
When Brand re-signed Tobias Harris, stole Al Horford away from the Celtics and got Josh Richardson in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade, he expected all three players to help space the floor. That trio has combined to shoot 34.3 percent from deep. All three players are on pace to have their worst shooting seasons from three since 2016-17.
If the 2019-20 Sixers disappoint come playoff time, changes will need to be made, but one of those changes shouldn't be to move on from one of their All-Stars. It should be to surround them with players that complement their unique skill sets.
Make no mistake, Embiid and Simmons are far from perfect together, but nothing in sports or life is. You do the best you can with the pieces you're provided and try to make it work.
Having two young pieces as good as Embiid and Simmons is a strong start. Brand just needs to find a way to finish it with a trophy.
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