When LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the very first time while playing for the Miami Heat in 2010, a discussion broke out between a few writers pregame if anyone -- including James -- would ever average a triple double for an entire season. The stat is achieved when a player reaches double digits in three different statistical categories in the same game. The conversation referenced the aforementioned James, as well as legends Wilt Chamberlain (the last center to lead the league in dimes), Hakeem Olajuwon, Alvin Robertson, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Walt Frazier, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Larry Bird, Fat Lever, Chris Webber, Grant Hill and of course Oscar Robertson. I was the lone voice saying it could be done, but I thought it would be LeBron doing so. Seven years later, Russell Westbrook became the first since Oscar Robertson to accomplish the season stat line during his MVP campaign in 55 years. It’s an incredible feat, and great for basketball, because during the final games of last season, it was something most hoops fans wanted to see done. It’s great for basketball evolution, I say, because anytime basketball is discussed, the game wins, and basketball’s popularity is soaring in this era of social media fueled analytics. Fantasy league owners watch closely in hopes a player on their roster scores a triple double. The game is changing, because players in this most encapsulated age are better if they can do more on the floor. Centers are shooting threes and bringing the ball up; point guards are rebounding and blocking shots at a higher clip. In Philly, two young stars are filling stat sheets in rare fashion. Is it possible that the Wunderkind Twins -- Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid -- could also average what I call an Oscar (an ode to Oscar Robertson) over the course of 82 games as teammates?
November Rookie of the Month Ben Simmons is averaging 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.3 steals after 21 games. Those numbers compare favorably to Magic Johnson’s in 1979-80 -- when Magic put up 18 PPG, 7.3 APG, 7.7 RPG and 2.4 SPG as a rookie. Magic led the Lakers to a championship vs. the Sixers that year, and was Finals MVP. While no one is claiming Simmons is currently as great as Magic, Ben is absolutely the early Rookie of the Year favorite, and could start the All Star game because the Sixers are becoming the NBA’s it team. He seems to progress by the second, and will only get better because he wants to play hard and win big every game. Defenses are at a disadvantage because of Simmons’ size, strength and ball handling ability, and once he figures it all out from the perimeter, fans will be privy to some monstrous games. His game is so elite, he doesn’t have to shoot as much – which is common for a point guard. He scores on steals or forays through the lane when the offense breaks down on baby hooks. Simmons does need to acquire a mean streak of sorts because that will land him multiple times nightly at the foul line.
Second year do everything center Joel Embiid is scoring 22.9 points, pulling down 11.8 boards, dishing 3.3 assists and blocking 1.8 shots per contest. Early comparisons have Embiid starring as a young Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. It’s evident Embiid has studied the NBA Hall of Famer, and he too, will garner post season award consideration while definitely in line to play in this season’s All Star game in Los Angeles. When you think of centers dominating stat sheets, the two names that stick out are the aforementioned Olajuwon and Chamberlain. Embiid is already mentioned with those two because of monster games, and he’s only in year two. Of course he has a lot to learn and is nowhere near those two, but he’s already at the top of the league position wise, and has told me that he not only wants to be the league’s best defensive player, but the best player in the NBA.
Why do I say these two could put up an Oscar a season you ask? Acquiring J.J. Redick for a year was a great move by the Sixers front office, and surely, the team will look to sign him after the season if it all continues to play out well. He’s feisty and plays with the biggest of shoulder chips because of his otherworldly career at Duke – which makes him fearless all over the floor. I asked Brett Brown about the expectations after the acquisition: “When you bring somebody in, and ask what their identifiable NBA skill is, it’s not hard to reach for what his is. Like anything, it forms a team, and his skillset completely compliments Joel Embiid’s, and Ben (Simmons) driving it and finding him. He maximizes that environment for us.” Redick is averaging 15 points per, and also 3.6 assists mainly because teams cannot afford to lose sight of him. He is an underrated shooter, and very confident in how sharp he can shoot it. I said to Redick that so many names are named before him, and he cringed while answering. “How many names are mentioned before you get to me (media laughs)? Three? Like, there maybe three right? Steph (Curry), Klay (Thompson), and maybe me. What I’ve been able to do the last 4 or 5 years speaks for itself.” Combined with Robert Covington hitting threes at a 41.6 clip, assists will come easy for Embiid, Simmons, and whoever else has the rock looking to pass. Embiid likes to pick and pop feathery shots off secondary fast breaks – catching defenses off guard – and because of his touch, he’s not necessarily taking bad shots. This is a very unselfish team, and as the years go by, personnel on the perimeter will be tweaked accordingly which will only augment the possibility of big stat nights, and further galvanize seasons by Embiid and Simmons. After a recent triple double where it appeared Simmons didn’t have such a big night, Brown analyzed his floor leader: “If Ben and I sat in a room, I thought, you know, a C plus. Then you see he was 11, 11 and 14. It just goes to show he just peppers stat sheets because of how active and athletic he is.”
If you notice, teams are doubling Embiid to get the ball out of his hands because he can do so much. It was something I asked Brett Brown regarding how his young star reacts to doubles whether on the catch, or after the bounce: “I lived this privileged life with Tim Duncan for twelve years (as an assistant with the Spurs). We had a course. It was like post calculus spacing. You get your masters. When you watch game sevens, which I saw a lot of in playoff series, you really saw different ways that he got double teamed. There were common things no matter which way they came from whether on the catch, on the bounce, on top, or underneath. There are all kinds of ways to double the post. What I have learned in that environment over the years with Timmy, is there are a core set of rules that work as a Swiss army knife, and then you react to it. It gets down to post spacing, and Joel has quarterbacked the gym quite well. He’s had what 15 or 16 assists prior to this one? If he can do that and be as dominant as he has been – while at 70% of his fitness level – well as I’ve said many times that that can be the best offense for everybody that we have.”
Yes, of course it’s early in the careers of these talented two. Even as Embiid and Simmons acquire experience, so much could happen. Some would challenge that it would be premature to claim anything moving forward, and yeah, maybe they have a point. My response is, to not have a foresight at what potentially could go down, would be akin to not asking a question in mind during a press conference, and having the very next reporter ask that same question. So many times, reporters and fans wait for major outlets to set the narrative, to that I say who the heck made up that rule? The Philadelphia 76’ers belong in the NBA’s elite because of an enduring tradition led by the likes of Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. Add the Wunderkind Twins to the list. The potential is limitless stat wise, and on the score board sellouts are becoming a constant, and the league is noticing. Think about it, with Joel Embiid sitting out back to backs to rest, and his team still responding regardless of opposition, what does the future hold for the Sixers? If talented Markelle Fultz, the top pick in last year’s draft, is able to ball like he’s expected, another option will score the ball. Moving forward, with so many reasons why the possibility exists for Embiid and Simmons to both average an Oscar, I say, why won’t it happen?
It’s that time of year, so can’t a reporter of exuberantly youthful eyes speak into existence of simply what should be?
Close your eyes, and maybe you too, will see the possibility.