December 06, 2017

What they're saying: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are MVP candidates

Sixers NBA
120617-JoelEmbiid-AP Chris Szagola/AP

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, of Cameroon, right, looks back with Ben Simmons, of Australia, left, near by during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, in Philadelphia. The 76ers won 121-110.

What a strange world we live in, when the Philadelphia Eagles can be Super Bowl hopefuls and the Sixers can be expected to win games on a nightly basis. When you get blue-chip prospects in the building, things tend to happen, and the national attention has begun to catch up to local adulation.

Respect due to role players like Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, JJ Redick, and the rest of the guys filling in the gaps, but Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are at the heart of the Sixers' revival. Those years of waiting are beginning to pay off, and as the Sixers jostle for positioning in a crowded Eastern Conference, the love has begun to pour in.

But you don't necessarily have to take my word for it. Feast your eyes on some of what's being said about the team around the league.

Are Simmons and Embiid MVP candidates?

Tim Bontemps | Washington Post

Bontemps' article is decidedly not about these two guys, but he did go through the trouble of surveying 105 NBA media members to see where the league's best players stack up in the race for the Most Valuable Player award. There are no surprises at the top of the leaderboard, with stalwarts like James Harden and LeBron James outpacing the rest of the league.

But there is a point of curiosity within the data: Embiid received one fourth-place vote and seven fifth-place votes, while his rookie counterpart hauled in a single fourth-place vote. It is a small token and a measure of just a portion of the season, yet impressive all the same. A first-year player and a guy who has admitted he has probably played less than 100 total basketball games in his life are factoring into MVP debates amongst people who decide on these awards.

I doubt you'll see Simmons stick around in a list like this because the learning curve for a rookie is just too high. Keep an eye on Embiid, though. If the Sixers sustain or improve on their current win pace and place themselves near the top of the East, they'll likely have done so behind a dominant (and healthy) season from Embiid. There's little chance he makes up that much ground on Harden or LeBron, but I don't think it's totally crazy for him to sneak into the top-five at year's end with a dominant two-way season. [washingtonpost.com]

Feast your eyes on the greatest high school mixtape ever made

This is the video I never knew I needed. I'm not sure which part of the video is my favorite: Embiid not realizing where he was on the court and having to throw a pass from under the backboard as a result, or Embiid unleashing a vicious spin move before laying the ball in. There is a little bit for everyone here. [Home Team Hoops]

The best big man in the league, as defined by Joel Embiid

What, did you think he was going to name anybody except for himself? Embiid's confidence in himself is boundless, but perhaps more critical to the story here, he takes every matchup and comparison to other big men very personal. Every time he gets to go up against one of the league's top young centers, a la Andre Drummond the other night, he relishes the opportunity to prove a point.

If he's not the best right now, he at least has a case to make. And given the rough edges he has that needed to be rounded into form, he can still get so much better from here.

A scout's view of Ben Simmons' strengths and weaknesses

Sean Deveney | Sporting News

You can’t leave a big man on an island against him. Not a slow guy like Mahinmi. He is way too quick and agile with the ball in his hands. You need a picket-fence type of defense, so that you are giving him size every time he penetrates. He has a gift when it comes to post-up moves, an instinct. A lot of young big guys, you spend a couple of years to teach them the moves and counter moves he has in the post. Whatever happens with his perimeter game, he is going to be an effective player just for how he handles his footwork.

Not everything in the scout's assessment is filled with praise, but the overall assessment of Simmons is flattering. How could it not be? [sportingnews.com]

The Process was worth the wait

Candace Buckner | Washington Post

They labeled the suffering, adopting the mantra “Trust The Process,” following former general manager Sam Hinkie’s stark, deliberate form of rebuilding the franchise by trading established players and trotting out young prospects who couldn’t win games so the team could eventually draft better ones. But the Process tested the loyalty of a hard-knuckled city that proudly has a reputation for not suffering fools. This is a tough crowd — during a promotion Wednesday night, fans booed one of their own off the court after he air-balled several three-pointers. He was trying to score a free chicken biscuit.

...

The Sixers may not land LeBron James. They almost certainly will not have that parade this summer down Broad Street. But what the Sixers do have is a future, and an adoring fan base along for the ride.

Almost as if — and stay with me here — the team and some fans were onto something with that radical rebuilding plan. [washingtonpost.com]

The rise of Ben Simmons, wunderkind

Lee Jenkins | Sports Illustrated

If you're an NBA fan, pretty much anything Jenkins writes is appointment reading. This is an especially fun piece for Sixers fans, who can learn more about the journey that brought Simmons to where he is today, and the conversations with LeBron James that help fuel him.

As he did pull-ups in the fitness center at the Wynn hotel alongside James and Dwyane Wade, he kept FaceTime on his phone, so his best friend from home could watch. Simmons grew up wearing Wade’s Converse kicks, buying pairs in red, white and black. He studied James’s highlights on his iPad during class. He came of age with the Heat’s Big Three, who handed the rock to their 6'8", 250-pound kingpin and called it small ball.

“You have an opportunity,” James told Simmons early on, “to be better than me. But you can’t skip steps. You have to do the work.” Those words helped sustain him when he stumbled at LSU and helped fuel him as he rehabbed in Philadelphia. “Is this really going to happen?” he asked himself. He knew, even if others wavered, that it would. Because LeBron said so, and for a prospect of Simmons’s vintage, no endorsement means more. “Part of his greatness,” Simmons says, “is that he wants others to be just as great." [sportsillustrated.com]

The payoff of a grand experiment

Robert O'Donnell | The Atlantic

At this admittedly early juncture, Philadelphia’s stars seem more likely to flourish, long-term, than to lapse into friction. Their skill sets offer reason for optimism; where Durant and Westbrook both preferred to have the ball in their hands, Simmons and Embiid have a naturally symbiotic on-court relationship. The former initiates the offense but cares little about who in particular scores; the latter can finish open opportunities and, when things bog down, improvise near the rim. They already run pick-and-rolls like they’ve been teammates for a half-decade. Their admiration, too, is mutual and extensive. In the offseason, Simmons said of Embiid, “Honestly, there’s nobody that can compete with him in his position.” Embiid, for his part, serves as the team’s primary hype man, proclaiming the young core “legendary” even before it had played a single game together. [theatlantic.com]

I remain interested in whether the Sixers' two talented youngsters will clash over the long-term, even if their games do synergize. We have seen many a talented duo bump heads throughout the history of the NBA, and you wonder if either guy will grow tired of sharing the spotlight at some point.

For now, enjoy the early stages of what could be a legendary duo. The early moments, when the pressure is not quite as great, are often the most fun.

Keep LeBron James away from the 76ers

Andrew Sharp | Sports Illustrated

This is not an idea I agree with, because I think if you can get LeBron James on your basketball team, you do it without asking any more questions. But Sharp hits on a lot of the feelings diehards have about the idea, citing a desire to see the young guys grow on their own.

The NBA works best when its biggest personalities and best players have room to breathe. LeBron is the biggest personality the game has, but he's absorbed 98% the oxygen on every team he's ever been on. That makes it harder for everyone else to grow. So yes, just as his superstar replacements come of age and enter the spotlight, LeBron co-opting the talent and star power of Porzingis or Embiid would be evil, and brilliant, and honestly, kind of a bummer. We can't let LeBron go to New York or Philly.

If you think the media attention on the Sixers has gotten bigger lately, signing the biggest sports media force in my lifetime would make the franchise a nightly talking point, for better or worse. Do these young Sixers want that pressure? [sportsillustrated.com]

Almost 40 minutes of Joel Embiid talking about his life and career

The JJ Redick Podcast | The Ringer

Embiid hits on a lot of stuff here, from his gargantuan social media presence to the first huge purchase he wants to make with his new contract: a Maybach concept car that hasn't released yet. There's only one problem with that idea: he claims he still doesn't have a driver's license yet.

Redick is a great podcast host, and Embiid is a great guest. Do yourself a favor and listen to this if you haven't already. [theringer.com]