There have understandably been many strong reactions and opinions from various pundits in recent days about the Sixers, who have been crushed by the Heat and Celtics after losing to the 13-win Hawks.
Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen agreed with Ben Simmons' comment about the team playing "soft" Monday against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.
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"What we saw [Monday] night was the team that lost the toughest guy the had on the team a year ago and they played against him," Pippen said on ESPN's The Jump. "He brought that toughness over every night, and they all fed off that kind of energy."
"They have to create some kind of toughness, and I think it has to come from Ben Simmons. He has to be the tough guy."
Pippen was impressed with what Simmons did during Embiid's nine-game absence because of a torn ligament in his left finger. Simmons led the Sixers to a 6-3 record during that stretch and averaged 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists.
I look at this team - and I've looked at them since they've lost Embiid - and I think that the cream has been able to rise to the top. I think this is Ben Simmons' team. I think this team strives more around Ben Simmons. I think they put him up more points, and I almost want to say they're a better defensive team when Embiid is not on floor because they're able to switch guys and do different things.
"When you're undermanned, you tend to dig down a little bit deeper, and I don't think this team plays as good defense when Embiid is on the floor, maybe because they rely on him to protect the paint too much and he's not physically ready. … When Ben Simmons is on the floor, the Sixers are a fun team to watch - they're exciting, they play with a lot of speed and pace."
There are a few interesting aspects of Pippen's assessment. First, though there certainly might be something to the idea of a team tending to play with more intensity when shorthanded, it's not true that the Sixers are better defensively without Embiid. He's sixth in the NBA in defensive win shares per game, second in defensive rebounding percentage and, on most nights, an impactful, high-level rim protector.
Viewers obviously have their own personal tastes, but Pippen's characterization of the Sixers as being an "exciting" team with Simmons on the court should not be controversial. It's easy to see how a 6-foot-10 athlete whizzing up and down the floor would be more enjoyable to some fans than a player who has more post-ups than anyone in the league despite having played in only 35 games.
Though the Sixers have been abysmal on the road - especially so on this current trip - both Simmons and Embiid make the Sixers a better team. They sometimes make life more difficult for each other, but it seems premature to declare the Sixers as "Simmons' team," and to imply that they're better without a three-time All-Star starter in Embiid. The supporting pieces simply haven't been as good as the Sixers envisioned, and they haven't fit as well as they hoped around their stars.
All of that said, the Sixers' play away from Wells Fargo Center hasn't inspired much faith in anything about the team's construction or ability to be the championship contender they aimed to be.
You can watch the full segment with Pippen, Jackie MacMullan and Rachel Nichols on The Jump below.
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