Markelle Fultz

Breaking down Joel Embiid's rough shooting night

Breaking down Joel Embiid's rough shooting night

Joel Embiid has joked in the past about his desire to be a guard in the NBA. All kidding and three-point shooting aside, the big man wants to play at the basket.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finding me in the post,” he said Friday following the Sixers' loss to the Celtics. 

Embiid was candid about where he needs the ball following his 11-point performance. He didn’t score until the third quarter and shot 4 for 16 from the field and 0 for 6 from three in 28 minutes. 

“I felt like I needed to go to the perimeter to make something happen because I wasn’t getting the ball in the post,” Embiid said. “I think we’ve got to look at the tapes and find ways to get me the ball in the post. But I felt like because I wasn’t doing that, I had to go outside and make something happen to help us win.”

Embiid started off the game taking shots away from the basket. He went 0 for 2 from three in the first quarter and also missed a 20-foot jumper. His two points came at the line.

Embiid went scoreless in the second quarter and didn’t attempt any shots in the paint, either. He failed to connect on another three as well as an 11-foot jump shot and a 13-foot floater. 

He began the second half going 0 for 2 from long-range in the first four minutes. Finally, with 4:35 remaining in the quarter, he recorded his first field goal off a layup from Dario Saric. He scored off a dunk from Markelle Fultz late in the third and notched another point off a free throw. 

Embiid became more aggressive at the basket in the fourth quarter. He checked in with 5:37 remaining and the Sixers trailing by four. He knocked down a 13-foot pull-up and then missed his next four attempts: an eight-foot jumper, a layup, a trey, and a tip layup. Embiid made a layup with 16 seconds to play. 

The Sixers system has changed from last season when Embiid was the offensive go-to (20.2 points per game). As a rookie, he made 63.6 percent of his field goals within three feet of the basket, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

The Sixers have added more scoring options, including Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who drive the basket and are not perimeter-focused. Of the two, only Fultz made a shot outside the paint Friday. The team as a whole scored 40 of their 92 points in the paint, compared to 28 by the Celtics. Below is a combined shot chart for Simmons and Fultz. 

Embiid's teammates will look to feed Embiid the ball at the basket. Just two games into the season, this newly-constructed squad still is learning how to play with one another. Embiid was limited in full-court practices for the majority of training camp and only played in two preseason contests.

The Sixers also are adapting to the offense when Embiid is both on and off the court as his minutes and availability fluctuate. He is not playing Saturday against the Raptors in the second night of a back-to-back. 

“If he’s in the game and he’s in the post, get him the ball,” Fultz said.

Embiid echoed, “He’s right. That’s the right answer.”

Markelle Fultz quietly shows growth as Sixers plan to expand his role

Markelle Fultz quietly shows growth as Sixers plan to expand his role

Things weren’t going well for Markelle Fultz in his home debut.

Fultz missed all three of his shot attempts after entering the game in the first quarter. Two of those were blocked, with one a filthy snuff on a layup by the man he will be connected to forever: Jayson Tatum.

In between misfires, the No. 1 overall pick committed two personal fouls. The second came on a three-point shot by Terry Rozier III.

After 4:34 of action, Fultz slinked his way back to the bench.

And then a literal weight was lifted off his ailing shoulder.

Fultz returned to the court late in the second and immediately went on the attack. He drove right to the rim on Tatum and forced a foul.

That meant the 19-year-old with the banged-up right shoulder had to step to the free throw line and show off that oft-criticized shooting form.

Splash. Splash.

The points elicited a roar from the crowd and even a slight reaction from Fultz.

“Just a little smile at the fans. I saw somebody on the baseline just looking, so I just smiled,” Fultz said.

“It’s something I’ve been working on to get through this, so I was happy.”

Happy, but not content.

From that moment, Fultz looked like a different player. Not statistically as he finished with just six points on 2 for 9 shooting with three rebounds, one assist and one steal in the Sixers102-92 loss in their home opener.

However, the guard played with more energy on both ends of the court. He continued to drive hard to the basket offensively while he fought through screens and battled bigger bodies on D.

“I think I have a lot to improve on, but I also think I’m learning each night I come out and taking baby steps to improve on the stuff I did last game,” Fultz said. “I think I’m in a pretty good spot, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

One thing the team has learned so far is to get Fultz coming off more screens at the top of the key. Sixers head coach Brett Brown liked what he saw when Fultz had the ball in his hands with the reserves and was able to get downhill in a hurry off pick plays.

“I think it’s going to be something where we put him in more pick-and-rolls to try to get him more in the middle of the floor,” Brown said. “How we do that, I see it quite clearly. I think lately just trying to get him up and down the floor and get his fitness base and find some level of confidence has been most on my mind. But I agree with you, he has a skill that we have to tap into.”

“I’m just working on being wherever I need to be to help this team win,” Fultz said. “Pick-and-roll is one of the things I feel like I’m good at, so if that’s helping the team win I’m going to go do it.”

But that doesn’t mean Fultz is about to go rogue and start calling his own number all the time. Despite being the top pick in June’s draft, he knows this team’s engine starts with Joel Embiid, particularly when the big man is in the paint.

“If he’s in the game and he’s in the post, get him the ball,” Fultz said. “Whether I’m off the ball to screen away. If I’ve got the ball in my hands, find him. Whenever he’s on the floor we’ve got to find a way to get him the ball. He’s a great passer, so he’s going to draw a lot of attention. Any time he’s in there we have to get him the ball.”

A nodding Embiid agreed from a few feet away at his own locker.

“He’s right,” the big man said between bites of an apple. “That’s the right answer.”

The rookie is a fast learner.

Sixers-Celtics observations: Embiid struggles in home-opening loss

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Sixers-Celtics observations: Embiid struggles in home-opening loss

BOX SCORE

The Sixers' home opener Friday night was spoiled by the Celtics, 102-92. The Sixers led after three, but the Celtics broke an 84-84 tie with a 6-0 spurt to change the momentum. The Celtics outscored the Sixers, 33-20, in the fourth, led by an 18-8 run down the stretch.

With the loss, the Sixers fall to 0-2 on the season. Boston is 1-2.
 
• The game was dominated by the sound of whistles. The Sixers were called for 31 personal fouls, the Celtics 24. Robert Covington fouled out while T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric and Aron Baynes had five apiece. The Celtics shot 22 of 32 from the line compared to 12 for 16 by the Sixers.
 
• Embiid (11 points, 14 rebounds) didn’t score his first basket until the third quarter. He shot 0 for 6 from long range, making it 0 for 10 on the season. He doesn’t need a reminder of his struggles, either.

“My three-point shot is trash so I’ve got to work on that,” he said before the game.

Embiid was one of the last three players to leave the court after shootaround, going through three-point drills.
 
• Ben Simmons followed up his debut with another double-double: 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in 37 minutes.
 
• Markelle Fultz (6 points) drew a foul against Jayson Tatum in the No. 1 vs. No. 3 pick matchup. Fultz got the better of Tatum on that second-quarter play, but what he did next was more significant. He went to the line and made … both free throws (see video).

What a difference a game makes.
 
• This is sharp-shooting JJ Redick’s version of running the break: dash to the three-point line and pull up for a shot. It worked. (He shot 4 for 7 for the night.) Later on, Redick got to the arc and kicked it to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in the corner. Luwawu-Cabarrot drove the basket and scored.
 
• The Sixers got Baynes in foul trouble early (three in the first quarter) and quickly took the 6-foot-10, 265-pound presence out of the game. The team was against Baynes, including 6-2 McConnell who drew a whistle.

• Opening night celebrity sightings included Meek Mill, Samuel L. Jackson and M. Night Shyamalan. The Eagles showed their support, too, as the ceremonial bell ringers.