Joel Embiid loves the big burden on him and all the criticism that comes with it

Joel Embiid loves the big burden on him and all the criticism that comes with it

Joel Embiid said at his exit interview Monday in Camden, New Jersey, that he hadn’t been on social media.

But, judging by how he responded to a question about the criticism he faced during this season for his diet, conditioning, untimely illnesses and more, it sounded as if he’d seen every unkind word about him.

“I love it,” Embiid said. “I love when you guys or anybody else just talks s---. I haven’t been on social media, but I see it all. I love when people tell me that I can’t do something because I’m going to go back and work hard, and I’m going to get it right. I’m excited. Tough ending to the season, but I feel like everybody did their job. We played hard and we’re going to be back here.”

There is, you sense, a part of Embiid that wants to respond to the parts of the criticism that don’t come close to being fair.

The sentence after saying, “I’m fine with taking the blame,” he added, “Obviously I can’t control being sick at the wrong time. I still try to push through it.”

Fair enough.

Embiid said he played through his illnesses and his left knee tendinitis, with the exception of Game 3 in the first round of the playoffs against the Nets, because he kept being reminded of how massive an impact he has for the Sixers. The Sixers had a plus-20.7 net rating in the playoffs when Embiid was on the court and a minus-19.7 net rating when he was off it, per NBA.com/Stats.

A reasonable interpretation of that stat is that the Sixers’ failure to advance beyond the second round falls largely on their lack of a capable backup center who could stop the ship from sinking when Embiid wasn’t playing. Embiid doesn’t see it that way.

Even if I’m not producing offensively, defensively they’re always telling me that the numbers show it. That’s why I played — I couldn’t let them down. It’s fine. I’ll take it all. You can put this loss on me. Don’t just put it on the coach or anybody else. I should play better. I think I didn’t shoot the ball as well as I did in the regular season. I didn’t have the same impact as I’d had offensively — mainly because of the game plan they had, but that’s what it takes. I have to find ways to get through that and get around other teams’ game plans. I didn’t do that. I’m definitely going to be a better player. It’s all on me.

Beyond valuing his body — Brett Brown said Tuesday he believes Embiid will enter training camp “in the best shape that he’s been since he’s been a Philadelphia 76er” — Embiid has ideas in mind for how he’s going to build on a regular season in which he averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and started his second consecutive All-Star Game. 

He enjoys being labeled “the best big man in basketball,” and he’s called himself “unstoppable,” but he thinks he needs to expand his game. The three-point shot is not going to disappear from his repertoire, though he only shot 30 percent from long range this regular season on 4.1 attempts per game.

“You kind of have to get the ball out of my hands, and that’s what Toronto did,” he said. "I think the ball was in the air and there were already two guys on me the whole series. … I just can’t be a post player. I have to do more. I have the put the ball on the floor, which is probably going to bring my efficiency down, which is fine. 

If I’m open, like they always tell me, shoot it. If I’m not, find guys and get them open by setting screens, doing anything. I think I’m definitely going to turn into more of a complete NBA player.”

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Can Elton Brand and the Sixers fix what went wrong with roster construction?

USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Can Elton Brand and the Sixers fix what went wrong with roster construction?

The Sixers had so many options heading into free agency last July.

We don’t know yet exactly when free agency will begin this year because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the suspended NBA season. Whenever it does happen, though, the Sixers won’t have as many possibilities. 

The decisions to give Tobias Harris a five-year, $180 million contract and guarantee Al Horford $97 million over four years are the two clear, primary reasons the Sixers won’t be in an especially flexible position. In Year 1, those moves haven’t panned out as GM Elton Brand and the front office would have hoped.

In one major way, Horford has actually provided what the Sixers expected. As a backup center, he’s been quite good — the Sixers have a plus-5.2 net rating when Horford is on the floor and Joel Embiid is off it. He’s been much better than a hodgepodge of Amir Johnson, Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe and Jonah Bolden. 

However, many of the reasonable concerns that came with signing Horford have come to fruition. The Horford-Embiid pairing has the worst net rating of any two-man Sixers lineup that’s played at least 500 minutes together. If you want an idea of just how poor the offense has been when the two have shared the floor, consider this: Their 100.6 offensive rating together is almost six points worse than any of the Sixers’ two-man pairings last season (minimum 500 minutes). 

Though Brett Brown was talking about aiming to further develop Horford and Embiid together as recently as the day before the season was suspended, that combination is a problem. It’s not what the Sixers would have planned when they signed Horford, but the decision to move him out of the starting lineup in February was very sensible.

Horford has shot more three-pointers than ever in his career, but not at an efficient rate (33.7 percent, his worst mark since the 2014-15 season). We thought he’d likely decline in the later years of his contract and be costing the Sixers money at 35 or 36 years old. To put it bluntly, he’s cost the Sixers money in his first season, and has not fit well. 

Harris, in his ninth NBA season, has improved defensively, is second on the Sixers in scoring (19.4 points per game) and, after an 0-for-23 nightmare of a stretch, has shot 39.1 percent from three-point range. He’s the only Sixer to have played in every game, and younger players like Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok have praised his mentorship. All of that matters and is positive, but Harris has not been worth $32.7 million this season.

The main question now — outside of when basketball will return, of course — is whether the Sixers can repair their mistakes.

Is there a team out there that would be willing to take on Horford’s contract and give up any value in return? The Kings, who reportedly were expected to make a “massive offer” to Horford in free agency, are one team it would make sense to engage. Sharpshooter Buddy Hield would presumably be the name of interest.

Trading away Harris looks much less likely, although we’ve learned not to rule anything out during Brand’s brief tenure. It’s difficult to imagine the Sixers receiving a worthwhile return, and Brown and Brand have often portrayed Harris as being an emerging player. They believe he’s going to get more and more comfortable and effective as a primary scoring option.

Josh Richardson, who’s suffered a variety of injuries in his first year a Sixer, is on a team-friendly deal. He shouldn’t be untouchable, but his perimeter defense and shot creation are important for this team, and they come at a good value.

Ben Simmons and Embiid are not what’s wrong with the Sixers and should not be traded at this stage. The pieces around them are the issues. Of course, judgement of whether those are issues the Sixers can overcome is incomplete. We don’t know yet how this roster would fare in the playoffs, and Brand has insisted his team was built with the postseason in mind. 

The Sixers would currently have a first-round pick in the draft — the top-20 protected Oklahoma City Thunder pick they acquired in the Markelle Fultz trade would convey — and that’s one of the ways they should be able to improve their roster. They’ve hit on Landry Shamet, Shake Milton and Thybulle in the draft over the last couple of years. With how Brand has constructed the team, targeting a perimeter player who can shoot, capably create his own shot or do both would appear an obvious priority.

Fundamentally, nobody envisioned this NBA season unfolding the way it has. Whatever is next and whenever the offseason eventually begins, the Sixers will have to discern the best methods to address the unpleasant surprises of this season. 

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Matisse Thybulle is a much better defender in real life than in NBA2K


Matisse Thybulle is a much better defender in real life than in NBA2K

Matisse Thybulle is known for his defense in real life. In NBA2K, that is definitely not the case.

With the NBA season suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, Thybulle and the Suns’ Mikal Bridges played each other in 2K on Friday night and streamed the action on Twitch.

Though Thybulle gave Bridges a little bit of a scare with a big third quarter, the virtual Suns beat the virtual Sixers, 75-64. 

While the intensity obviously didn’t compare to a typical game night at Wells Fargo Center, both Thybulle and Bridges — a Villanova product and a Sixer for about 20 minutes before a draft-night trade two years ago — were very into it.

Thyulle decided to sub himself into the game after just 28 seconds, and Bridges did the same 30 seconds later. 

“Which one’s shoot again?,” he asked. “Square?” 

As his team fell behind, Thybulle had some stern words for his players.

“Al, you’re better than that,” he said when Al Horford bit on a pump fake. “You’ve been in the league too long to be making those mistakes.” 

When Ben Simmons had a floater blocked, Thybulle wasn’t thrilled. 

“Ben, you’re 7-foot,” he said. “Just dunk it.” 

And a Mike Scott lay-up early in the third wasn’t what Thybulle was hoping to see. 

At one point, he tried begging for mercy from Bridges.

“Stop running pick-and-roll, I don’t know how to guard it,” he said. “Please. Come on, man.” 

Unfortunately for Thybulle, Bridges did not stop and the rookie left with a loss, albeit an entertaining one.

“I apologize to the Sixers, to my family, my friends, the people of Philadelphia,” he said. “This is not acceptable.” 

After personally finishing with no points on 0 for 3 shooting, Thybulle promised he'll be practicing.

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