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If the 76ers Lose Early in the Playoffs Is It Time to Break Up Embiid and Simmons?

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The question of if the 76ers lose early may seem strange this year considering how well the team has looked at times this year. The Philadelphia 76ers have never looked better going into the playoffs in recent years. They are likely going to finish as the first seed, they have the runner-up for MVP and, most importantly, the pair of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. When both play together, they owe an astonishing 34-6 record this season — the highest win percentage it has ever been.

Nonetheless, the narrative that they should be broken has been discussed ad nauseam, and it will only stop until one of the following happens: one is finally traded, or they win a championship.

But why is that narrative continuously being talked about? Well, their games don’t exactly complement each other, with both players’ strengths revolving around the rim and creating spacing issues with one another. Back-to-back second-round exits in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 also don’t help their case — last season Simmons missed the playoffs entirely. And if they fail to make the conference finals this season, that will be a major disappointment and only add to the fuel to the “Embiid and Simmons can’t coexist” conundrum.

However, that conundrum is built solely on narrative and no statistics whatsoever. Because most people don’t know that Simmons and Embiid have actually been one of the league’s best duo’s ever since they stepped foot on the court.

Just how dominant have they been?

As soon as Simmons and Embiid shared the floor, the 76ers have been a 50 win team (except last season). Below is the 76ers record when both of them are playing:

  • 2017-2018: 40-22 record (64.5%), plus/minus: +7.0
  • 2018-2019: 43-18 record (70.5%), plus/minus: +4.3
  • 2019-2020: 26-15 record (63.4%), plus/minus: +0.4
  • 2020-2021: 34-6 record (85.0%), plus/minus: +9.9

It doesn’t exactly look like a pair that doesn’t fit well together. They have now played 204 games and have gone 143-61 for a 70 percent win rate. This season is also the season coach Doc Rivers has decided to maximize their minutes (28 MPG), which is a substantial change to when former coach Brett Brown was in charge in the three previous seasons — the duo averaged 21.8 MPG together.

Apart from last season, where the 76ers roster wasn’t built to accommodate Simmons and Embiid, they have been one of the league’s best duos, and it may come as a surprise.

Comparing to rest of league’s best duos who have played since the 2017-2018 season:

  • Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray: 160-95 (62.7 %)
  • Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum: 150-91 (62.2 %)
  • Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert: 165-86 (65.7 %)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton: 167-84 (66.5 %)

It truly is mind-boggling that the pair that should be divided according to the media is the one that has the highest win percentage. These duos have win rates lower than the 76ers duo, yet they aren’t regularly scrutinized. It’s fair to say that 3 of the 4 pairings above did make the conference finals at least once — with the Utah Jazz being the exception — while the 76ers have failed to do so in two tries with both of their stars healthy. Another second-round exit is a road the 76ers can’t afford to take with their championship aspirations.

If the 76ers lose early would an early exit be enough to separate the pair?

So if the 76ers lose early is it time to break up the team? Barring any major injuries, the answer is yes. With 76ers president Daryl Morey at the helm, it’s hard to envision a world he sticks with the same team that would lose to any of the Knicks, Hawks, or Heat (though this one is not inconceivable).

As great as the duo is together in the regular season, if they can’t beat one of the three teams mentioned above after the season and changes they made in the offseason, then it’d be lunacy to think they won’t be separated — especially with Morey in charge.

The 76ers have paved themself an easy path to the final. There will be no shame in losing to the Nets or Bucks in the conference final — only if it’s less than a 6 game affair. It will be disappointing, but it will be a step in the right direction and will only get them closer to a championship in the long run.

Their track record of them together is far too good for them to be separated right now. And unless it’s a major upset, I don’t see why Morey would elect to separate the two cornerstones pieces that have guided this team to the top of the East even if the 76ers lose early in the playoffs.

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