The Utah Jazz are playing on Christmas Day for the first time since 1997. The Milwaukee Bucks will be playing in their first Christmas game since 1977. The Philadelphia 76ers will be on national television twice during the NBA opening week and will also play on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Chicago Bulls will appear on national television on opening week as well. What do all of these teams have in common? They are led by some of the brightest and youngest stars the league has to offer today.
The NBA is experiencing an unprecedented wave of young talent. Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Jokic, Josh Richardson, Jordan Bell, and Jordan Clarkson are a handful of guys in the past four years who have greatly outperformed their second round selections. Mid to late 1st round picks such as Clint Capela, Gary Harris, Terry Rozier, Kyle Kuzma, and John Collins have produced more for their teams than some of the players taken in the lottery in their respective drafts.
Then there are the game changers. Players who can carry the weight of a franchise on their back. Young guys who can change the future of a team. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid.
The Philadelphia 76ers were fortunate enough to land two franchise changing players in Simmons and Embiid. Simmons has been proclaimed as the second coming of Magic Johnson and Embiid is often compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. Simmons and Embiid have the potential to become All-Time greats. However, with all of the other incredible young players in the league, where do the two Sixers stand among their talented peers?
Ben Simmons won Rookie of the Year this past season after having a historic 1st year campaign. Simmons is only the second player in NBA history to record 1,200 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists in a rookie season. The other player to do so was Oscar Robertson. He had 12 triple doubles, the second most triple doubles for a rookie in NBA history, only behind, you guessed it, Oscar Robertson. Simmons posted 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists in a rookie season that many didn’t see coming. Yes, scouts and executives were aware that Simmons was good but none of them could’ve predicted that he’d be one of the best rookies in NBA history.
With the 6’10 frame and athleticism of a forward, the court vision and ball handling of a point guard, and the rebounding prowess of a center, Simmons is a combination of freakishness that is all too scary for the league. He’s unstoppable on the fast break. He can take it coast to coast or find an open teammate with a dazzling pass. He can finish over defenders in the paint and dribble around opponents with ease. Simmons is as crafty of a player as they come.
Being a point guard, Simmons holds a lot of the responsibilities of running the team and his leadership on and off the court has been nothing short of great. 76er legend Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J, said that Simmons was a “once-in-a-decade, maybe once-in-a-lifetime-type of player.”
Simmons, unlike the rest of the young stars in the league, has the luxury of playing alongside arguably the best center in the league, Joel Embiid. Embiid’s tale is one for the ages. After he was discovered in a basketball camp by Luc Mbah a Moute, Embiid made a name for himself at the University of Kansas.
After showing off his incredible footwork, post moves and willingness to protect the rim, many had him pegged as the number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft. That changed after Embiid suffered a back injury. He ended up sliding to the 76ers at the 3rd spot. Embiid went on to miss his first two seasons as a pro due to multiple foot and knee issues. When he finally did get to play, he only played 31 games after going down again. It wasn’t until this last season that Embiid really got the chance to showcase his potential.
Embiid posted 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 blocks in his official second season as a pro. He made his first All-Star appearance and was the starting center for Team Curry. His ability to protect the rim and play sensational defense was noticed by many, as he was voted runner up for the Defensive Player of the Year Award and was named to the All-Defensive Second Team as well as the All-NBA Second Team. He even had a game against the Lakers where he had 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks in a game, a stat line that no other player has ever put up.
Embiid is one of the few traditional big men left in the game today. He can score almost at will in the post with Olajuwon-esque moves and footwork. His giant 7’0, 250 pound frame allows him to bully anyone in the paint. When called upon, Embiid can also stretch the floor and knock down some 3 pointers.
Embiid is not only a huge star on the floor, but he’s also one off the floor. He has 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 2.7 million followers on Instagram. Embiid is one of the funniest social media personalities in the world. He is charismatic and charming but also not afraid to tell it how it is. Joel Embiid is the full package.
So know we know just how good Embiid and Simmons are but we still don’t know how great they can become. They aren’t alone when it comes to young players leading their teams into success. Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken the Bucks from mediocrity and turned them into a must watch team. Donovan Mitchell has given the Jazz their first showtime Christmas Day game in over two decades. Karl-Anthony Towns has given the Timberwolves their first franchise player since Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007.
Simmons and Embiid are undoubtedly 2 of the top 5 best young stars in the league. Not many other players could take the 76ers from competing for the first pick in the draft to contending for a championship. It’s unreal to think that two of the league’s premier young talents play on the same team, but we don’t have to believe. We get to watch history happen. With so many gifted youngsters, the Sixers should be grateful that they have two of the best.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports