By Ollie Nash
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have quickly become top 15 players in the NBA. Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
The Philadelphia 76ers should not trade Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid. Now I’ve got your attention. If you read any NBA new on Twitter, or listen to just about any NBA related podcast, what I just said is idiotic. But hear me out.
The firing of head coach Brett Brown after a 4-0 first round exit to Boston all but confirmed that the team will keep both of their stars, and give it one last crack under a new regime. 76ers fans should see this as a positive. You have two top 15 players, with a new coach, a new system and some roster changes coming this off-season … hopefully.
The issue with modern day society is we want, want, want. Everything that we want, we desire it now, this very second. Sports fans want their rookies to come in and play like Michael Jordan. We want the new iPhone the day before its release. We want the new pair of LeBron’s before the man himself has even seen them.
This is what I see a lot of in basketball fans, especially when it comes to the 76ers. In their minds, they should have won a championship by now. Have they forgotten that Simmons is 23 and has just finished his third full season in the league, not counting his rookie year which he missed due to injury. Or that Embiid is 25 and has also just finished his third full season, not including his first two missed by injury and his third in which he played just 31 games.
A lot has been written and said about Embiid’s and Simmons’ differing styles of play and how they clash. I agree, it doesn’t seem to gel naturally like an Anthony Davis and LeBron James duo. The advanced metrics with those two as a pair on the floor back it up too. However, despite all their issues as a pair, they were four agonisingly close bounces to possibly going to the Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) last season. In 2018, they ran into a Boston team that took LeBron to seven games in the ECF. All of this and they haven’t even entered their prime yet. Embiid is inching closer to what experts would call his prime years, but Simmons isn’t even close.
Kawhi Leonard's crazy series-winning shot in 2019 broke 76ers hearts. Photo: Mark Blinch/NBAE/Getty Images
There’s only a handful of guys that seemingly had it figured out at 25. Some, but not many of those have then proceeded to win titles before 25. Superstar talents like Michael Jordan who were still working it out with their team and coach, waiting for trades to happen or draft picks to develop. This is the case throughout NBA history, yet we’re calling for one of Embiid or Simmons to be traded after just their third full season together.
I’ve looked through some of the greatest duos in NBA history to see how long it took them to find success. This is what I found.
John Stockton and Karl Malone had eight straight seasons of first or second round exits before making the conference finals in 1991-92, losing to Portland. They then had another four seasons of a first round, conference finals, first round and then conference finals exits before making the NBA Finals in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Malone was 33 and Stockton 34 by the time they made the Finals.
Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer in Detroit experienced first, second and first round exits before a conference finals loss in 1987. They made the Finals in 1988 and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, before making and winning the Finals against LA the next year. Thomas was 27 and Laimbeer 31 when they won. For three of those years prior to winning the title, the team also had star shooting guard Joe Dumars and they still couldn’t get over the hump.
Even Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan went through a second round exit and back-to-back conference finals losses before winning the title in 1991. It helps when Phil Jackson becomes your coach it should be noted.
The additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson bought so much hope, but they didn't work out. Photo: Getty Images
In no way am I comparing Embiid and Simmons to these pairs, but it’s a nice sample size to see that these things take time. They’re already on the brink of a conference finals and Simmons can’t shoot and Embiid is never in shape. Imagine what they could be with a strong head coach and those facets of their game improving by let’s say ... 20 percent.
Maybe I’m a glass half-full kind of person, but it would baffle me if they were openly looking to trade one of them even after next season. Let’s not forget that a lot of commentators picked Philadelphia as their Eastern Conference champions prior to the season. In SB Nation’s pre-season predictions, their five experts picked the 76ers to make the Finals. So did Sporting News. Forbes picked them to win the title. Five of eight journalists predicted them to make the Finals in The New York Times, including Hall of Fame sportswriter Harvey Araton. Of the other three, two of them picked the 76ers to make the ECF, including Marc Stein. In the GM Survey before the season they received 30 percent of total points for a top four finish in the East, second behind Milwaukee with 37 percent. What I’m getting at, is that everyone thought they were going to be awesome, now 10 months later they want one of their stars gone.
Brett Brown took the brunt of the blame, now Elton Brand needs to build a team around Simmons and Embiid. Photo: Yahoo News
Predictions mean nothing in the end, they’re just a way to create content, but they do shed a light on how many people had jumped on this Philadelphia bandwagon. What gives me hope even more for this duo is that a fresh face is coming in to lead them with new ideas and strategies, solely based around Simmons and Embiid. I feel for Brett Brown, it’s hard to know what the problem is and how to fix it when you are in it.
It’s always easier from the outside looking in to see what needs to be done. Phil Jackson did it in Chicago and Los Angeles, and Steve Kerr did it in Golden State. They were able to watch on from afar and come into a team of stars with ideas on how to help them succeed. Whoever they hire to coach the 76ers will no doubt have watched a lot of their games. They will have plans in their minds for what they can do for the pair to make them excel individually, and to help get the team over the hump.
This off-season is key for the team, moves need to be made, some players need to be moved on and a supporting crew that fits Simmons and Embiid needs to be found. But don’t lose faith so quickly. It may be four or five years until they win a title, if they ever do. However, it’s not often two top 15 players come into your team organically through the draft, so be patient.
Cover Photo: Tim Tai/File Photograph
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Giannis and LeBron have been the two MVP front-runners this season. Photo: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
As the regular season comes to an end in the Orlando bubble, it's time to look at the 2019-20 NBA Awards. The final eight games of the season did not count towards the awards, making this years' winners some of the toughest to select, with the stoppage in play due to COVID-19 happening over five months ago.
But none the less, Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash have looked back at the season that was, and present their awards for the 2019-20 NBA regular season.
MVP/DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO - MILWAUKEE BUCKS
29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 55.3%FG/30.4%3P/63.3%FT
Ollie and Liam
Giannis could become a back-to-back MVP. Photo: NBA
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER:
BRANDON INGRAM - NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1 steal, 46.3%FG/39.1%3P/85.1%FT
LUKE DONCIC - DALLAS MAVERICKS
28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1 steal, 46.3%FG/31.6%3P/75.8%FT
Brandon Ingram took on more of an offensive load on his new team. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR:
MONTREZL HARRELL - LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 blocks, 58%FG/65.8%FT
LOU WILLIAMS - LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
18.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 41.8%FG/35.2%3P/86.1%FT
Lou Williams is ageing like a fine win. Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:
JA MORANT - MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
17.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 47.7%FG/33.5%3P/77.6%FT
Ollie and Liam
Ja Morant tried to dunk on everyone this season. Photo: Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports
COACH OF THE YEAR
NICK NURSE - TORONTO RAPTORS
BILLY DONOVAN - OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Nick Nurse has quickly become one of the best coaches in the league. Photo: Nathan Denette/CP
Cover Photo: Sam Forencich/Getty Images
By Ollie Nash
Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images
LeBron James and Tom Brady have been at the top of the NBA and NFL for over 15 years. Think about that for a second. In American terms, that’s almost four stints of high school, being the best in the world at what they do. They are extraordinarily talented with extreme work ethic, but more importantly they have moved with the changes in their respective leagues. James is attempting and hitting more threes a game this season than in his entire career, because that’s where the NBA has evolved to. He’s 35 years old.
A big part of what makes superstars as good as they are is their ability to adjust, change and add to their game and move with the times. They have the talent, majority of them have the drive to succeed, but what keeps them at such a high level for so long is their capacity to accept where the sport is going, and adjust their game accordingly.
We can’t underestimate how hard that is to do. They grow up playing a certain way, through high school and into the pros. For the most part they play the same way with some minor tweaks along the way. It’s hard to shake those habits and styles of play once you hit your late 20s and early 30s, but that’s what separates the superstars from the rest.
In other workplaces and careers, tell someone to change how they go about their job after 20 years in the industry and they’ll tell you where you can go. Hell, my housemate told me to use ‘Beem It’, as it was a quicker way to transfer money compared to my normal banking app and it took me weeks to accept it, and I’m only 21. Look at Russell Westbrook, he’s 31 and he has tweaked his game mid-season, in his first year with a new team.
Russell Westbrook with teammate James Harden. Photo: Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle
Lots has been made about his improved form in the second half of the season before the lockdown, but let’s look at how he went about it. To put it simply, he’s stopped shooting threes, started attacking the basket more and grabbing offensive rebounds.
In the first 24 games this season with Houston, Westbrook was putting up 22.5 points, just over six rebounds and eight assists a game. He was shooting poorly, 43 percent from the field, 25 percent from the three-point line, and 76 percent from the line. In the 32 games that have followed (up until and including the Portland match-up in the bubble) the only change in his stat line is his points, up to 31 a game and his field goal percentage, up to 50 percent. But the most promising stat is that he is attempting just under three triples a game, compared to five in the first half of the season. He’s changed his game at the age of 31, and guess what? It’s worked. He’s playing better and the Rockets are 21-12 in those 32 games.
Watch any Houston game, in the bubble especially and it’s obvious he’s being more patient and considered with ball in hand, particularly when he’s left open from behind the arc. He knows he needs to drive it more, so he does. He draws so much attention inside it means Harden, P.J. Tucker, Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers etc. are wide open on the perimeter. If there was a stat for “almost assists” or “hockey assists”, where a guy passes it to a wide open teammate who then misses the shot or passes it off, Westbrook would be top of the list.
He’s stopped shooting at such high volume from the three-point line, but still enough to keep defences honest, instead focusing on driving the ball like the freight train he is and either scoring or finding his open shooters. Off the ball, if James Harden is doing his thing, then Russ is getting offensive rebounds. He’s grabbing two a game in the second half of the season compared to just over one in the first half.
Russell Westbrook drives past Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers' on his way to the ring. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
The Rockets new system without their former centre Clint Capela is certainly helping him. Early in the season, Westbrook was forced to shoot threes to make up for the lack of attempts from Capela. Now, with four guys around him at all times who can shoot, Russ can do what he does best; attack the rim and put defences under pressure.
We all know who he is. He’s ultra-competitive, in your face, intense and doesn’t give a f*** what anyone says or thinks about him. For everything he did well though, it was impacting his winning ability in Oklahoma City as his efficiency, especially from three, diminished year on year. If he went 1-10 from three, he didn’t care, because he still saw them as good shots from the go to guy on the team. That’s why it’s so impressive that on the wrong side of 30, with such a strong personality, he’s adapted and accepted a new role in this weird Houston line-up.
Cover Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images