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Open Joel Embiid thinks Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were right, talks about everything he's juggling

Open Joel Embiid thinks Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were right, talks about everything he's juggling

At times early in this season, Joel Embiid has sounded like he's been grappling with questions larger than how to counter an opponent's scheme. He wondered aloud after the Sixers' win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night whether his efforts to be more mature were worth it

Thursday in Boston, he gave perhaps the clearest picture yet of how he's juggling aggressive double teams, working with his new teammates, the priority on being healthy for the playoffs and many other factors.

He agreed with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal's criticisms about him not pushing himself hard enough to be great. 

“That’s what they do," Embiid told reporters. "Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Embiid's offensive numbers are down across the board, although part of that can be attributed to the fact that he's averaging 3.3 fewer minutes per game than he did last season. The two-time All-Star is averaging 22.0 points per game, compared to 27.5 in the 2018-19 season, and both his field goal percentage and free throw attempts have dropped. He also missed five of the Sixers' first 25 games as a result of injuries, his suspension for fighting with the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns on Oct. 30, and load management.

To Embiid, those aren't valid excuses.

I can’t pick and choose whenever I want to dominate. It has to be a nightly thing. Then again, I’ve also got to take care of my body, so I’m still trying to find that balance between kind of putting my body at risk during the regular season and when I have the goal to get to the playoffs healthy. Still trying to find that balance and like I said, playing with my teammates, I’m still trying to learn. It’s been a big adjustment for me this year. I’m still trying to get a balance and get a feel for everything, and I’m sure by the end of the regular season we are going to be ready for the playoffs.

Defensively, Embiid has still been highly valuable. His 95.3 defensive rating is best in the NBA among players who have played at least 25 minutes per game. He's posting up more than any player in the league, too, and doing so efficiently, averaging 1.08 points per post-up possession. However, he's still adjusting to the frequency and aggression of the double teams he's faced.

"I’ve said earlier that I want to get to the playoffs healthy," he said. "The last two years I have not been healthy. Two years ago it was my face, and last year it was my knee and I was sick, so this year I kind of told myself that I want to get there healthy. We’ve got a new group and I’m still trying to get used to it. It’s completely different, the way I’m being guarded this year, just every time I touch the ball, heavy double and triple teams, just trying to navigate through it and be a basketball player, make the right plays.

"If I get double teamed, my teammates know I’m going to pass it. It's a balance between trying to make something happen for the team and making the right plays."

The expectations for Embiid and the Sixers were very high entering this season. Even after watching the Sixers move to 18-7 and 13-0 at Wells Fargo Center, Barkley, who picked the team as his champion before the season, said they "ain't got not chance" at winning the title.

Embiid might not hear all of it, but he understands the gist of those expectations and the essence of the criticisms. He talked Tuesday about not wanting to be a distraction, which he seemed to think might, at times, curb his fun-loving side.

Thursday, he referenced O'Neal's comments about his scoring numbers not being enough.

"Yes, that’s the high standard that I set," he said. "It just feels like if I don’t score 35 points or 40 points, it feels like a down game — even when I have 30, so it’s just the way it is. I signed up for it. I want to be great. I put the work in to be at this level and to be better. I still feel like I have a lot of potential and people feel the same way. So, it’s only right for people to expect me to, like Shaq and Charles said, to drop 35 a night.

"So, like I said, I’m not a selfish player, I’ll take whatever the defense gives me. If they are going to double team me all night, and I only got to take two shots I will do that, too. I’ve got to play within the concept of the game and follow whatever the team wants me to do. I’ve been following it and if it takes me taking five shots a game, I guess I’ve got to do it."

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Tobias Harris keeps the Sixers entertained on their bus ride to Toronto

Tobias Harris keeps the Sixers entertained on their bus ride to Toronto

Around 10:30 p.m. Monday night, we were blessed with a Ben Simmons Instagram Live video of "DJ Tobi," Tobias Harris, on the Sixers’ bus from the airport to the hotel.

“There’s a soul plane and there’s a soul bus. You’re on the soul bus, ya dig?”

DJ Tobi then proceeded to interview all the players, coaches and team personnel who entered the bus, as you can see in the videos below, which do contain profanity. 

“State your name, where are you from and where are you going,” head coach Brett Brown said Tuesday morning, laughing about last night’s bus ride. “And when there is a lull, he's got Spotify hooked up, and he's got some hip hop going on.”

“DJ Tobi,” Matisse Thybulle laughed, struggling to find the words for Harris’ performance. “He was putting on a show for everyone. … It was funny because you were seeing people out of their comfort zone.”

With the rigors of an NBA season, and through all the travel, bus rides and plane rides, the value of that type of team bonding can go underestimated.

“It's team bonding,” Simmons told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “We're a pretty close group. We like to have fun and there are a lot of different characters and personalities on the team. … It's awesome. But that's just who we are as a team, everyone just likes to have fun, everyone has good personalities and means well."

Of course, it’s easier when you’re winning, and the Sixers delivered one of their most impressive defensive performances of the year in their win over Brooklyn, led by Simmons and Thybulle.

“We could carry that good energy over,” Thybulle said of the win over the Nets. “But it definitely help to keeps things light because the travel gets tedious and boring.”

For the Brown, it’s yet another characteristic he’s seen blossom out of Harris.

“Leadership comes in all different forms … and he does it naturally,” Brown said.

“It’s what makes team sport, for me, as enjoyable as it gets, when you can win with people that you respect and trust that care. And this group does.”

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Jameer Nelson, Phil Martelli react to troubling Delonte West video

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Jameer Nelson, Phil Martelli react to troubling Delonte West video

Troubling video surfaced Monday on social media of former Saint Joseph’s great and NBA player Delonte West.

The 36-year-old appeared to get into a physical altercation and then was recorded spewing profanities with his hands behind his back. The video contains inappropriate language.

On Monday night, West’s former college teammate Jameer Nelson and head coach Phil Martelli voiced their concern and offered support.

West has opened up in the past about his battle with bipolar disorder and run-ins with the law. The most notable incident was when he was pulled over in Maryland on a three-wheeled motorcycle and subsequently arrested and charged with speeding and two counts of carrying a handgun.

When he was on Hawk Hill, West starred during his sophomore and junior seasons alongside Nelson. The duo led St. Joe’s on an incredible run in 2004. The Hawks were the No. 1 team in the country at one point and earned a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They lost in a thriller in the Elite 8 to two-seed Oklahoma State.

After choosing to forego his senior season, West was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 24th overall pick. He last played in the NBA with the Mavericks in 2012 and his professional career ended in 2015 after a brief stint in the G League.