It's hard to deny the skills of young Philadelphia 76ers stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Over the years, though, the two young stars have lacked a reliable veteran leader to gain knowledge and motivation from.
Things are different this season. During the offseason, the Sixers went out and snagged two NBA Champions in Dwight Howard and Danny Green. And since coming to Philly, Howard has taken his role as the team's outspoken leader very seriously, and his head coach, Doc Rivers, can't help but rave about Howard's growth.
"We look at Dwight in a lot of ways in his career," Rivers said on Thursday after practice. "He was a dominant player when he first came in, and then he kind of got lost for a while. Last year was a resurrection for Dwight Howard."
"He couldn't get signed, then he goes to the Lakers and wins a ring," the coach continued. "That Denver series, [the Lakers] don't get to the Finals without Dwight Howard. That changed Dwight, too. Now he knows what winning looks like."
Last month, Howard inked a one-year deal with the Sixers after his short stint with the Lakers. While Howard could've landed in a handful of other places, he chose the 76ers because he believes the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons combination resembled LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Howard believes the Sixers have the tools to win it all -- and he knows it starts with the young stars. So, to help them maximize their talents, Howard is doing all he can to help get the best out of Embiid and Simmons, which Rivers has noticed.
"The fact that [Dwight] can give some of that [championship] knowledge to Ben and Joel is invaluable," Rivers claimed. Following Wednesday night's season-opener, Simmons and Howard immediately came back out on the court for a post-game shootaround after defeating the Wizards, which is something you wouldn't typically see from Simmons or any other Sixers players in the past.
"I thought it was great," Rivers said. As for Simmons, he's expectedly appreciative of Howard and his leadership. After putting up 16 points in the victory against the Wizards, Simmons didn't hesitate to follow Howard's lead back out onto the floor to get some more shots up on Wednesday.
"It's something I need to do," Simmons claimed after his workout. "Dwight's been pushing me to get better. He came out to the floor with me. He's just pushing me. He wants me to be great, and I really appreciate that -- I respect him a lot. Especially with the career that he’s had. He’s someone I know that’s come into this organization to push me and believes in me, so to have that and have somebody do that, it makes you feel good."
Simmons still has a long way to go. While the fourth-year veteran is far from a finished product, he'll only get better with time. And now that Howard's around to push him even harder, the young All-Star could be in for his best season yet.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_