Could the Philadelphia 76ers have three All-Stars?
NBA All-Star voting is officially underway. You can cast your ballots over at NBA.com, or join the retweeting action on Twitter. No matter how you choose to vote, most visitors of this site are likely to endorse the Philadelphia 76ers. Right now, there are three obvious candidates on the roster — Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons.
This season, Embiid is a no-brainer. He should not only start, but probably operate as the conference captain. Captainhood is determined by fan votes — not coach and player votes — but Embiid still has a decent shot. His main competition is probably Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The captains from each conference get to draft teammates.
Beyond Embiid, the Sixers’ situation is murkier. On one hand, Philadelphia is 13-6, good for first place. On the other hand, Tobias Harris has never made the All-Star game before and has the reputation of being massively overpaid. Ben Simmons, who has two All-Star appearances under his belt, struggled mightily out of the gate and has been central in trade rumors all season.
There is a real chance Joel Embiid is the Sixers’ only All-Star. There is an equally real chance the Sixers have three All-Stars, with Simmons and Harris both getting enough votes from envious coaches and players league-wide. It will depend somewhat on Philadelphia’s ability to sustain its conference-best record.
Right now, Harris has the next-strongest case. While Simmons’ reputation generally exceeds Harris, the latter is playing the best basketball of his career. For long stretches this season, Simmons played his worst.
Harris is averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 33.8 minutes per game — the highest mark on the team. He is scorching the nets, shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 46.1 percent from 3-point range. Regression is inevitable, but Harris is well on his way to a career-best season from deep.
After struggling immensely in his first full season with the Sixers, Harris has revolutionized his game and his fit next to Joel Embiid. He’s no longer a wayward isolation scorer. Instead, he has become a prolific catch-and-shoot threat, burying defenses in transition while showing a much steadier hand in the halfcourt.
It has not been a perfect season — he’s averaging fewer assists and more turnovers than 2019-20 — but Harris’ newly decisive disposition has transformed him into a much more compatible No. 2 scorer alongside Embiid, who continues to improve his own decision-making in the halfcourt. Even Embiid has endorsed Harris’ All-Star campaign.
As for Simmons, the numbers are less endearing. He’s averaging a career-low 13.0 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting, also a career low. The 3-point shot has not magically appeared (he’s 1-for-6 from deep on the season), and his lack of aggressiveness has too often made life easy for opposing defenses.
Simmons has turned the corner in recent games, and his defense remains otherworldly. That said, unless he can put together an explosive stretch of games in the coming weeks, his case is the most difficult to make. This season may mark a small aberration in what promises to be a long and prosperous career for the 24-year-old.
Even with a weaker case than usual, it’s too early to write Simmons off entirely. He is sixth in the NBA in assists, averaging 8.0 per contest. On the other end of the floor, his ability to contain elite perimeter scorers on a nightly basis could be, in and of itself, a solid case. Coaches and players who vote on bench players are bound to respect Simmons’ lingering presence on that side of the ball.
The James Harden rumors, in conjunction with a poor start, have left Simmons’ reputation a bit tattered. He is still in the process of rebuilding trust within his own fanbase, and the onslaught of Bradley Beal rumors bound to crop up in forthcoming weeks probably won’t aid Simmons’ reputation.
In the end, Philadelphia is due at least two All-Stars giving their stature in the East. Only five Eastern Conference teams are presently above .500, and Philadelphia holds the coveted top spot with a one-game margin over second-place Milwaukee. It’s rare for top seeds to only get one All-Star.
We can pencil in Embiid, and right now, the battle for the coveted second slot rages on between Harris and Simmons — the former holding a considerable, if not impenetrable, edge. The third slot is where it gets dicey.
Here’s how the conference All-Star race is shaping up.
Locks: Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Trae Young
I have realized, upon typing that out, that 11 of 12 spaces feel virtually locked. The Nets’ trio feels destined to break in, while every player outside Trae Young is playing a significant role on a winning team — all while outstripping Harris and Simmons in terms of production. Young is the center of Atlanta’s offensive universe, and the Hawks are a .500 team firmly in the postseason race.
That leaves a difficult path to glory for both Harris and Simmons. While Philadelphia holds the esteemed No. 1 seed right now, players like Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal — even in losing situations — will get sympathy from voters. Beal is the NBA’s leading scorer right now. Even other stragglers — Clint Capela, Julius Randle, Myles Turner, Collin Sexton, Kyle Lowry, and so forth — have compelling arguments.
To keep it simple, no, three All-Stars does not feel distinctly likely or even possible for Philadelphia. The Eastern Conference race is too crowded, and Simmons’ status of All-Star shoo-in has been shattered. Harris is a feel-good story and he gets some narrative points, but it’s difficult to envision coaches and players selecting him over some of the other options available. If the Sixers do squeak in a second All-Star, you can close the book on a third.