By Jerry Wein
For as long as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons played together for the Sixers — four years — the common trope was that they didn’t complement one other.
Embiid had to clear out so Simmons could maneuver.
And now that Simmons is temporarily or permanently off the Sixers starting five, Embiid has been freed up.
As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor points out:
Without Ben Simmons, life is a bit different for Joel Embiid this season.
The extra attention may wear him down, like it did Tuesday in a blowout loss to the Knicks.
But it has also given Embiid more freedom to do what he wants following a defensive rebound.
Rather than locating Simmons or another guard with a pass, Embiid is more frequently bringing the ball up the floor himself.
This season, he’s the player handling the ball crossing half court 3.5 times per game, up from 1.3 last year and 0.6 the year before, according to Second Spectrum. And he’s using that head of steam to score or make plays:
Embiid told me in 2017 that he’s serious about his potential as a point guard. While he hasn’t been deemed the primary ball handler in the open floor without Simmons, he’s an undeniable threat, with the skill and dexterity to handle when he chooses to.
Overall, he’s averaging a career high in assists and a career low in turnovers by playing with more pace and feel than ever. Embiid could be in line for a monster season. Or, if nights like Tuesday begin to pile up and questions start mounting about the injury-prone center’s viability over an 82-game season, maybe the Sixers’ need for another All-Star talent is accelerated. Either way, something big is in store.