At long last, The Philadelphia 76ers appear to have a pair of potential superstar-caliber talents to build around at the small expenditure of three seasons and 199 losses. If both Ben Simmons and a finally healthy Joel Embiid are able to realize their seemingly ceilingless potential, it may prove to have been time well spent.
The end game could be a championship(s); that is, of course, if Simmons and Embiid sprout into the talents the Philly faithful hope them to be.
But if both reach their ceilings, which of the two would-be stars are likely to have more substantial influence on who the Sixers become?
Before that question can be answered, we must establish what a realistic ceiling for each likely looks like.
As Shaquille O’Neal recently noted, Simmons – the Australian phenom – is a “LeBron-type player,” and given what Simmons has shown on the floor and the skill set he owns that could make for a perennial all-star, LeBron James himself has said he doesn’t mind the comparisons. While it’s unlikely Simmons reaches the basketball heights of ‘top five in history’ James is arguably already worthy of, there’s resemblance in the style of play and franchise-changing potential.
The striking similarities arise when discussing Simmons’ unselfish nature and often awe-inspiring playmaking in addition to his frame, vision, and elite physicality and how he handles the ball for someone of his size. It’s quite possible he flirts with a triple double on a nightly basis at some point in his career.
It should only benefit Simmons that James has taken on a mentor role for the 6’10 point forward.
“[At] times, you’re going to see Magic Johnson dribbling up the floor at 6’10,” Brett Brown said at a recent media luncheon. “Other times, you could see a runaway train like LeBron [James], just moving ahead and going coast to coast. Sometimes, you see a little bit of a bounce with Draymond [Green].”
Simmons has been tabbed as the next big thing since he was in high school and for good reason. Simmons’ most concerning criticisms were his effort level in a college setting he didn’t want to be in in the first place, which is something virtually every general manager and coach will gladly overlook considering the talent Simmons is and could become. He was the No. 1 pick over an 18-year-old Kevin Durant look-alike for a reason.
Simmons can top out as a top-three or four player in the league and a mainstay in the MVP discussion, which would likely Sixers taking up annual residency in the playoffs would only serve to help, as so much of what makes Simmons special is his knack for making his teammates better.
Embiid, on the other hand, is much more of an unknown.
There was a point in time, before the 2014 NBA Draft, when Embiid was projected as the favorite to be selected No. 1 overall over his Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins, But a back injury, foot fracture numerous setbacks have sidelined the Cameroonian big man since March 2014.
Two-and-a-half years away from in-game action will almost surely have its downsides, but in the meantime, Embiid has significantly bulked up to a lean 275 pounds and the workout videos that continue to captivate spectators suggests the nimble, 7’2 big man can still become a generational talent.
“He checks all the boxes as a supreme-level prospect on the same level of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis,” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote.
Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons had become commonplace and the college film of Embiid’s ever-increasing offensive arsenal and instinctive rim-protection looked the part of a future NBA cornerstone.
That’s all still possible, though, considering his injury history, Embiid’s ceiling looks much more uncertain than that of his new teammates. Though he hasn’t played in an actual game since college, Embiid has only been surrounded by organized basketball since 2011, so he’s quite literally still among the earliest stages of his potential basketball progression.
— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) September 26, 2016
#Sixers Embiid: 'I'm going to make mistakes. … My shooting has really improved. I've gotten so much stronger, faster, quicker.'
— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) September 26, 2016
If Embiid ever becomes anything close to the talent that has made watching him stand in walking boots on the sidelines for the past two seasons worth it, as noted, the Sixers could have a Karl Towns, Anthony Davis-level talent on their hands. A healthy Embiid could control the game on both ends and play keep-away from most on the boards, and in an age where many are going away from a dominant frontcourt presence, Embiid could be the Sixers most notable nightly edge.
A healthy Embiid could become a generational talent and a top two or three big man in the league, as noted by The Ringer.
“Baby steps are key for Embiid, and no one should expect him to be a game-changing force early on this season, but it’s worth remembering what kind of prospect we have here. Hinkie didn’t roll the dice on an Andrew Bynum– or Dwight Howard–level prospect; he gambled on a Duncan, a Hakeem, a Shaq. Joel Embiid is the type of big man found on almost every dynasty in league history, and he has the potential to not only lead the Sixers, but to change the NBA.”
So assuming health is on the Sixers’ side, and the duo reach their towering upsides, who becomes the Pippin to Jordan; the early 2000s Kobe alongside Shaq, the Wade to a peaking LeBron?
Given the power names mentioned as comparisons for the two, it’s virtually impossible to refute what Simmons could become. When Magic Johnson and LeBron James are names mentioned in pre-draft comparisons, that’s not something to toss aside. Simmons hasn’t played a regular-season game in Philly yet, but his sheer presence has already bolstered the Sixers’ free agency image, evident with the Jarryd Bayless signing, who credits Simmons for why he signed this offseason. Given his size and versatility, as Simmons will likely develop into a 6’10, 250-pound Jason Kidd clone, it will be difficult to find many across the league that can match up, especially if his jump shot ever becomes reliable, or even respectable.
He’s the No. 1 pick the entire process was geared towards.
But Embiid, too, was a projected No. 1 pick over a superstar in the making in Wiggins. If the Sixers are to become a yearly contender like the late Sam Hinkie envisioned, Embiid has to become the pre-injury star he looked destined to be in 2014.
The same can said for Simmons, though; to an even greater extent. In a sport that’s becoming increasingly positionless, Simmons is a prototype. Unlike Embiid, it’s already becoming a given that Simmons will be able to play alongside virtually anyone, aside from ball-heavy floor generals. His impact on the game could be evident in essentially every offensive possession of his career, and having the ball in his hands as much as it appears he will only add justification to the bulk of Philly’s success falling on Simmons’ shoulders.
“I think, and I don’t throw this sentence out lightly,” said Brown, “I think [he] truly wants to be great. Like, I really think he really wants to be great.”
If Embiid can’t prove capable or remaining healthy and blossom into the talent those in The City of Brotherly Love certainly wish for, it would be a significant blow to a pillar in the Sixers future on-court structure.
But if Simmons fails to pan out, the entire foundation is wiped clean. Embiid’s individual success won’t matter. For the Sixers to rise from the ranks of basketball bottom feeding, Simmons has to become the best thing in Philly the franchise’s last No. 1 pick, Allen Iverson.