By Michael Bennett

The Sixers are 9-7 and play the Blazers tonight at the Wells, and they’re doing it in style!

Watch Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and see how much they enjoy playing together.

Almost as much as the fans!

The concerns about Simmons’s jump shot are warranted. He’s attempted only three 3’s in November, seven all season, and has yet to connect from outside as a pro. His field goal percentage can fluctuate wildly from game-to-game, though he’s still hovering around 50% for the year. But perhaps most importantly, none of this matters, because he’s been fun-as-hell to watch on offense with or without a jump shot.

Simmons is averaging gaudy numbers as a redshirt rookie, posting a near triple–double every night. He takes most of his shots in the paint, particularly the restricted area, where he often punctuates possessions with a dunk. The variety of ways Simmons finds himself at the hoop is staggering.

Simmons is the lead ball handler in Philly’s most-used lineup, which makes him (and the Sixers in general) a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. If there has been any silver lining to Markelle Fultz’s shoulder injury, it’s that Simmons has been given control over the offense and proven he’s capable conductor. Though Fultz wasn’t starting, it’s been critical experience for Simmons to be running the show down the stretch of close games.

At 6-10, 230 pounds, with the vision of a point guard and athleticism of a mini-LeBron, Simmons is somehow still not the most impressive talent on the 76ers. That would be Embiid, who has managed to stay healthy enough this season to tour visiting arenas in a quest to embarrass every center in the NBA.

Embiid’s physical talents are as long as his wingspan. He can shoot. He can dribble. He can score in the post. He can block shots. He’s fast. He’s strong. All of that is well and good, but nothing is more exciting about this guy than how he flies in the face of convention when it comes to competing. Embiid’s Twitter is hilarious because he’s self-aware and original. His on-court antics are on another level.

Last Monday in L.A., Embiid stared down Blake Griffin after a thunderous dunk, yelled “He can’t guard me!” after taking a hard foul from Willie Reed, taunted a fan after fouling out DeAndre Jordan, and then pretended to forget Reed’s name during his on-court, postgame interview.

And Embiid finds a way to perfectly troll the opposition while dominating his one-on-one matchup. (His masterpiece, though, remains this quote about Andre Drummond: “Defensively, he doesn’t play any defense.”)

Simmons is a threat to throw down a highlight dunk on any given possession. Embiid will make your jaw drop with his athleticism while also making you laugh with his exaggerated pantomimes. And while all of this has been happening, Simmons and Embiid have made sure to be more than just some cute league pass gem—they’ve been dominant. Their two-man lineup has a net rating of 10.4, leading to six wins in their last eight games.

As long as these two stay healthy, the Sixers are not only going to make the playoffs, they may make some noise. Philly’s lineup of Simmons, Embiid, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric and Robert Covington is a devastating five-man group, and if Fultz returns to form, the Sixers could have another wild card to deploy later in the season.

There are many reasons to enjoy Sixers basketball, but the first and foremost is the combination of Simmons and Embiid. Their early success has (finally) put Philly ahead of its rebuilding schedule. For even the biggest process skeptics, there’s no denying the impact Simmons and Embiid have had in establishing a new direction for the Sixers. In a league thriving on super teams, Philly appears to be halfway there.

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