76ers

Joel Embiid off to historic start but needs help from other Sixers

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Joel Embiid off to historic start but needs help from other Sixers

There’s no denying that we’re witnessing something special with Joel Embiid.

The All-Star center is having an MVP-caliber season. He’s currently second in the league in scoring, seventh in rebounding and sixth in blocks. He’s also cut one whole turnover off his average from last season, something Embiid worked hard over the summer to correct.

Despite the stellar play of Embiid, the Sixers find themselves at just 6-5 through 11 games this season. Even Brett Brown admitted that his team, which won 52 games last season and was the East’s No. 3 seed, is not “amongst the royalty” in the conference.

It’s far from time to panic, but there are definite concerns for this team. Chief among them is that Embiid needs help.

You have to start with looking at the starting lineup he’s playing with. He’s managed to get off to red-hot starts recently, but the players on the floor with him aren’t providing much help. Robert Covington is making threes, but he’s limited offensively. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are struggling to play together and their presence hurts the spacing for Embiid. Dario Saric is off to an incredibly slow start.

Then there’s JJ Redick, who may be the player Embiid most benefits from playing with. Since hitting eight threes against the Magic, Redick is shooting just 35 percent from three over his last eight games. With Redick’s track record, you can count on him turning it around and they need him to boost the two-man game with Embiid at some point.

“[Embiid] is our crown jewel,” Brown told reporters after practice Tuesday. “He is the centerpiece of everything we do, defensively and offensively. It’s throwback stuff, it’s atypical for the NBA. He’s very different from anybody in our league. And he needs the ball.”
 
The biggest thing Embiid needs is a fellow shot creator. Either Simmons needs to shoot more, Fultz needs to be more impactful — a big ask right now — or the team needs to acquire a player that can create off the dribble.

It won’t be easy to find a trade. Teams aren’t just going to give up shot creators and makers and the Sixers’ only true assets are draft picks. Other than the team’s untouchable stars, the only current player on the roster that would be attractive is Covington, mostly because of his cap-friendly deal. Maybe Fultz’s upside could attract a team, but the Sixers would be selling him extremely low and there would seem to be more value in trying to allow the 20-year-old to develop.

With all that said, Embiid needs the ball and the Sixers know it.

“I looked back at the tape like, ‘How did I get off 32 shots?’” Embiid said of his game against the Clippers. “Just to learn and see what’s happening. I never want to be selfish. I just looked at it and I learned that I played within the flow of the offense, I was in the right spots and my teammates were finding me. They were able to put me in the best position to be able to dominate. The game is slowing down, I’m healthy, I’m in shape, so I gotta keep improving.”

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Joel Embiid's NBA All-Star Game shoes designed with help of kids from Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia

Joel Embiid's NBA All-Star Game shoes designed with help of kids from Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia

Joel Embiid made his second straight All-Star start on Sunday night in Charlotte. This time, he went all out with his footwear.

Embiid's UA Anatomix Spawn All-Star Game player exclusive shoes were designed by footwear customizer Dez Customz, who went to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia for input from the kids.

The right shoe includes the Boys and Girls Club motto, "Great Futures Start Here." Per Under Armour, "the shoes feature Philadelphia landmarks and descriptors such as the City of Brotherly Love, the U.S. Constitution, LOVE Park, and more." And the initials of every kid who participated in "The Process" of creating the shoes are on the heels.

You can read about the shoes in more detail here

Here's a closer look. 

And here's Embiid with some of the kids who helped with the shoe design.


Photo Credit: Under Armour

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Sixers weekly observations: There's a snarling competitor under Joel Embiid's big smile

Sixers weekly observations: There's a snarling competitor under Joel Embiid's big smile

Joel Embiid is getting ready to start in his second straight All-Star Game, Ben Simmons is set to play in his first, and we have a fresh set of weekly observations to tide you over during this limbo without competitive basketball. 

• The playfulness and social media exploits sometimes obscure the fact that Joel Embiid competes.

Sure, he has off nights, but Embiid’s consistent effort, for a man of his size, is commendable. He’s played 54 games this season and scored in double-figures in all of them, with double-doubles in all but six.

It sounds basic enough — of course stars should play hard every night — but it’s not the reality of the NBA. Especially given his immense defensive responsibilities, you can’t begrudge Embiid the occasional “load management” day. In all honesty, he probably needs more. No disrespect to Boban Marjanovic and Jonah Bolden, but there’s a big drop-off at center when Embiid is out. Though he might not be the MVP, Embiid is up there in the literal sense of being most valuable to his team. 

His decision to lean into the microphone and end his press conference after another Sixers’ loss to the Celtics with, “The referees f------ sucked” wasn’t the most mature outlet for his frustration, but it was another sign of his snarling competitiveness. 

Embiid, though, is the rare superstar who usually has a smile in testy moments.

His comments after the Sixers’ blowout win over the Rockets on Jan. 22, in which he and James Harden each picked up technical fouls following a combative exchange in the second quarter, come to mind.

I was just walking back to my basket and I think [Harden] pushed my leg and naturally I’m going to react, and I did. We both got technical fouls and we move on. To me, I’m having fun. I’m always having fun and a lot of guys take it seriously. Especially when it comes to that, we just had one guy our last game that was acting crazy. But it’s fun to me. I love it. 

That guy who Embiid referred to as “acting crazy,” Russell Westbrook, is now his teammate on Team Giannis in the All-Star Game. It should be an interesting night, as should Feb. 28, when the Sixers play the Thunder in Oklahoma City. 

Lingering questions

The Sixers fell to the Celtics in the playoffs last season for plenty of reasons, among them an inability to take care of the ball, Simmons’ struggles, exemplary defense by Al Horford and Aron Baynes on Embiid, and Boston’s guards capitalizing on mismatches.

While the Sixers might be lucky enough to avoid the Celtics in the postseason, those are all issues which still be addressed. To Brett Brown and company’s credit, you sense they’re closer to having answers.

Simmons has gone from a subpar post player to one of the most efficient in the league, and he didn’t have a bad game last time out against Boston, with 16 points on 7 for 9 shooting, five assists, five rebounds and two steals. His free throw shooting (2 for 7 Tuesday vs. the Celtics) is still a concern.

Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris should remove some of the pressure on Embiid to dominate offensively every single game in a series. That said, sharper decision-making against double-teams by Embiid and, perhaps, creative movement around Embiid in the post — as opposed to standing around and watching him work — would be helpful.

Since the Butler trade, the Sixers are 26th in the NBA in turnovers (15.2 per game) and 22nd in turnover percentage (14.8 percent). Those numbers mean little out of context. When turnovers occur in the playoffs — ideally not in bunches, and not of the careless, unforced variety — is more important. 

And finally, you’d expect Jonathon Simmons, James Ennis and Mike Scott will boost the Sixers’ playoff defense, or at least make the team less vulnerable to mismatches. 

But 24 games isn’t much time to juggle experimentation and jostling for playoff positioning. It should be fun, at least for Joel Embiid. 

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