New 76ers center Dwight Howard believes Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can click like the Lakers’ NBA championship-winning duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Howard will play in Philadelphia in 2020-21 after teaming up with James and Davis to help the Lakers to NBA glory last season. The veteran big man will now try to guide the 76ers to their first championship since 1983, combining with another All-Star duo in Embiid and Simmons.
Much has been said about franchise pillars Embiid and Simmons, and their compatibility, as the 76ers prepare for life under new coach Doc Rivers, who replaced Brett Brown following a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the rival Celtics last summer.
“I’ve been in that situation multiple times, going to a team that has another star — Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, LA, DC — playing alongside other stars,” eight-time All-Star Howard told reporters Thursday. “Sometimes it can be difficult because you want to be that guy, and watching AD and LeBron, everything they did was together.
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“They worked out together, they ate together, they rode bikes together. We called them the brothers. They were always playing together — playing video games, doing something. . . . Ben and Joel, they have to be that way.
“They have to know each other so much on and off the court that when they’re playing, it’s just natural. ‘OK, I know Jo needs a touch right now, let me get him an easy bucket.’ ‘Ah, Ben is frustrated, let me set a screen for him, get him a couple dunks, couple shots at the rim just to get him going.’
“Once you’re willing to give yourself up, great things tend to happen for you. . . . I can see that in Ben and Jo. Those two guys together, putting aside any ego, pride or anything, and saying, ‘Hey, we’re both for one mission, and that’s to win a championship, and it starts and finishes with us two.’
“And I saw that with LeBron and AD. They put everything on their shoulders. They knew they had guys around them but it was, ‘OK, LeBron. OK, AD. We’ve got to do this, it starts with us. We’ve got to be on the same page at all times.’ And they did a really good job of it.”
When Embiid and Simmons play, the 76ers boast a 119-65 win-loss record, per Stats Perform. But without one or both, they greatly suffer (67-94), Embiid’s physicality in the paint and Simmons’ superior defensive skills have been vital to Philadelphia.
The 76ers average 111.7 points, 107.5 opposition points, 47.4 rebounds and 26.4 assists per game with Embiid and Simmons involved, a clear improvement compared to when one or both miss a game — 106.7 points, 109.4 opposition points, 44.5 rebounds and 25.0 assists.
Philadelphia also has a superior field goal percentage (46.9) when Embiid and Simmons both play, with the 76ers shooting just 45.3 percent without one or both. Opposition numbers also go up in their absence — field goal percentage (44.3 to 46.2) and 3-point percentage (34.1 to 35.5).
“Playing alongside Jo and Ben, I think for me it’s just giving them a sense that they can do anything,” Howard said. “For Joel, it’s just pushing him every single day to know that he’s the best, and every time he steps on the floor he has to be the best player on the floor — whether that be practice, in the weight room, in the training room, during all the games. It’s ‘I’m the best player on the floor. I’m going to show it through my actions on offense and defense.’
“For me, it’s really just cleaning up their mistakes, pushing them to be the best and just providing them with knowledge through my experiences. I see so much potential in Ben and Jo that I just want to see them succeed.
“I see so much potential out of those two — what they can bring to a team, the championships that they can have — just all the blessings they can get from playing this great game of basketball. I really just want to be that person to help push them toward their greatness.”