Why the pairing of Embiid & Drummond is crucial to the success of the Sixers

NBA: JAN 29 76ers at Lakers
January 29, 2019 – Los Angeles, California, U.S – Los Angeles Lakers’ Rajon Rondo (9) goes to basket while defended by Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) during an NBA basketball game between Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Los Angeles (Photo by Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Whether Sixers fans want to acknowledge it or not, there have been several new roster issues that have risen due to the absence of Ben Simmons. As the season has progressed it is clear the little things that Simmons did for the Sixers that are currently missing. While his defense and passing ability were obviously valuable, the impact he had on the boards is a category that has not been acknowledged as much.

This has been extremely evident this year as the Sixers rank last in the NBA in total rebounds per game. They also rank 29th in Total Rebounding Percentage (47.8%), last in offensive rebounds per game (8.3), 29th in team rebounds per game (6.9), and last in offensive rebound percentage (19.2%). This is especially concerning Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond both rank in the top 16 NBA players in rebounds per game.

These rebounding struggles were fully put on display in the recent matchup with the Orlando Magi, with the Sixers consistently allowing multiple shots per possession due to giving up offensive rebounds. Doc Rivers made the drastic decision to play Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond on the court together. This “Twin Towers” technique changed the game for the Sixers and allowed them to take back momentum of the game. While it is far too small of a sample size to base any conclusions off, this may be a tactic that Doc Rivers should look to further explore.

Sixers Problems this Could Fix:

The obvious problem that playing Embiid and Drummond together fixes rebounding as it gives the Sixers two above-average rebounders on the court to attack the glass. But the Sixers defensive issues extend beyond just securing rebounds. Another clear issue with the current roster is the stunning lack of athleticism. While guys like Georges Niang, Danny Green, and Furkan Korkmaz are functional in their roles, you will never catch them bragging about their vertical or 40-yard dash time.

It is not an issue to have a few guys that strictly lean on their basketball skill rather than athleticism, but having too many below-average athletes can be problematic on defense. Adding some extra length on defense could go a long way to covering up for their lack of athleticism. Embiid and Drummond have shown to be effective getting in passing lanes so far this season with each of them averaging over 1 steal per game which is key to making this tactic work. Andre Drummond averages an impressive 2 steals per 36 minutes which is tied for third best on the Sixers in this category, while Embiid averages a solid 1.2 steals per game.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a team that has made use of a supersized lineup this year and it has been a large reason for their early success. Their starting lineup includes Jarrett Allen (6’10), Evan Mobley (6’11), and Lauri Markkanen (7’0) and they do their best to capitalize on this height advantage that they hold over just about every team. While Mobley and Allen are much more athletic than either of the Sixers big men, the same principle can be applied.

Another benefit of playing Andre Drummond alongside Joel Embiid would be to take some defensive responsibility off of their superstar. Asking Embiid to be the motor of the offense and anchor of the defense on every possession is a task that very few players are capable of, and allowing him to take a few plays off defensively would go a long way to saving his legs. This is especially important as Embiid continues to become more involved in the Sixers transition offense. The 7-footer has done a terrific job handling this workload but it is one that will take a toll on Embiid as the season progresses. Drummond is more than capable of serving as an anchor defensively and this is something Embiid seems to be in favor of as well.

Why This Could Work:

While bad memories of the Al Horford experiment pop up when considering this twin towers lineup, the Sixers have a much different personnel from that 2020 team. It also is important to note that the spacing issues that arose from Al Horford were much more harmful to Ben Simmons style of play than it was to Joel Embiid. The Sixers star has also developed in his shot creation and overall scoring ability a great deal since he played alongside Al Horford.

Joel Embiid may be the most dominant post scorer in the NBA, but there is much more to his game than just that. While he still attacks in the post a great deal, Embiid also excels at facing up and attacking in isolation. In this way, he attacks in a similar way to a wing and does it at a very high level. This has become an area of his game that Embiid is quite proud of, and also makes it much easier for him to coexist with another big man.

Now am I saying that Andre Drummond should play extended minutes on a nightly basis? Absolutely not. However, utilizing this when the Sixers are struggling to defensively or on the board this should absolutely be used in the rotation. This adjustment almost certainly is not a move that will raise the ceiling of this Sixers team by much, but this could help secure a few wins along the way and Doc Rivers would be wise to explore it further.

Photo by Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire