Finding the balance: How will the post-trade Sixers impact Ben Simmons, especially with Embiid back?

Most people would agree Ben Simmons is a superstar. But recently, he has taken it to new heights that even his biggest critics would find hard to dispute.

After Joel Embiid dislocated his finger against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the beginning of January, the Sixers needed someone desperately to fill the void of their All-NBA centre. Enter Ben Simmons, who went on a tear, including winning a Player of the Week award during January 13 and 19.

During this stretch, without Embiid and other injured starter Josh Richardson, the Sixers went 6-3. According to Basketball Reference, Simmons averaged 21.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists, all while being incredibly efficient from the field (65.3%). The All-Star also averaged 6.8 free throw attempts per game (60%), which is a strong figure considering his career average of 4.9 attempts per contest.

Defensively, much like the whole season, he was a force to be reckoned with, visually altering games with his presence and effort. According to NBA.com, the Aussie averaged 2.3 steals (second in the league) and 4.4 deflections (third in the league), while holding his opponents to about 40% from the field goal, which was fifth best in the league of the players who defend more than ten shots a game. These numbers are elite but come with a caveat – only two of their wins came against teams with above .500 records - the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

While the quality of the opponents were a factor in Simmons’ hot run, a bigger reason might have been that the court was more open because of Embiid’s absence. Simmons loves to get to the rim, and Embiid, being a post player, tends to clog the paint and limit these opportunities. Simmons’ fast break prowess is likewise slowed by Embiid, who isn’t necessarily an outside shooter or rim runner, making it hard for him to keep up with Simmons, who loves to find open men in these scenarios.

Embiid returned just over a week ago against the Golden State Warriors, as the Sixers secured a mostly comfortable victory, 115-104. Since then though, Philadelphia has lost three games in a row. Embiid’s return has shown us that Simmons can still be effective when they both play. In the four games that the Cameroonian has been back, Simmons has averaged 21.75 points, 5.5 assists, 6.75 rebounds and 1.5 steals, while still shooting efficiently from the field (57%) and significantly better from the free throw line (80%), as noted by Basketball Reference.

While Simmons has kept up his tremendous form, the Sixers still need to work out a way to properly gel the two in a way that leads to team success rather than individual statistics. After a recent blowout loss to the Miami Heat, coach Brett Brown noted the obvious need to continue to try to morph his two superstars' games together.

“We want to maintain that, but there comes with a balance of the other things,” he said when asked about allowing Simmons to play fast and Embiid to post up. “My belief is it’s sort of delineated in a make or miss world. In early offence, it’s Ben’s gym. Take off, find Ben, and play off Ben downhill and I think in that environment, he’s had a mentality where he draws fouls and we run with him.”

Although many may question the feasibility of Philly being successful with those two on the same squad, their awkward fit isn’t made any better by the personnel they have around them. Philadelphia is without a proven closer (25th in fourth quarter scoring) and are inconsistent from distance (ninth worst three point percentage in the league), making it difficult to make up for Embiid and Simmons’ deficiencies.

The trade deadline ended at 7AM AEST today, and Philadelphia made some moves that could offset these weaknesses, while also subsequently helping Simmons keep up his excellent play.

By trading away two future second-round picks to the Warriors, the Sixers picked up Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. With the addition of these two sharpshooters, more driving lanes will be open for Simmons - help defences have to respect the newly acquired players from beyond the arc. At the same time, Simmons’ assist numbers could inflate, as he will appropriately find them if he is double teamed on a drive or when he is posting up smaller defenders. This could mean his season averages of 16.7 points and 8.2 assists will continue rising.

James Ennis III was also traded away from the Sixers and Trey Burke was waived, but this barely impacts Simmons, as both players were out of the rotation.

Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers will look to right the ship today, as they face the league leading Milwaukee Bucks at 12PM. Their newly acquired players will not be active.