CAMDEN, N.J. — There are 31 regular-season games left for the Sixers, who are a disappointing sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, and Joel Embiid on Wednesday said he’s, “Still trying to figure it out and where I fit.”
“This is a work in progress,” Embiid said. “Take it day by day, and trying to get better every day.”
The Sixers do indeed still have time to hit on answers they’ve yet to find, but Embiid’s comments after practice about his offensive role and comfort level were not positive.
“No, we don’t,” he said about whether the team had an offensive identity. “Spacing is an issue. Sometimes we play fast and sometimes we play slow. But at the end of the day, when we think about it, and as we try to get ready for the playoffs also, you know, the game slows down and it becomes a half-court game — and that's where we struggle the most. So, hopefully we do a better job the next few games.”
Embiid articulated a personal struggle with balance and working to understand his place. On a team with a large handful of players whose first instinct is to position themselves in the post, things have rarely been easy or fluid.
I’ve got to do what I can. Obviously I feel comfortable being down there, and from time to time I've got to spend a lot of time at the three-point line just to make sure there is some spacing, and everyone keeps saying get in the post, but if you actually understand basketball, you've got to find that balance. It's not about me, it's about the team, so whatever I can do to help my teammates or the spacing, which has been a struggle for us, I've got to do it.
"So, if it means … stay at the three-point line all game, I guess I've got to do it, but at the same time I've still got to find ways to maximize what I do best. But then again, there is also that aspect of every team doubles me every single game, so it's hard. It’s hard to find that balance, but we’ve still got to get going.
Though the Sixers haven't been able to maintain consistent offensive success, Embiid has a vision of how the team can eventually attain improved balance. He also acknowledged it’s been more difficult than last year, when he had a familiar two-man game partner in JJ Redick. The Sixers finished last season eighth in offensive rating (111.6) and are 20th this year (108.3).
“Sacrificing,” he said. “How we played last year, obviously a different structure, the ball movement was better, and this year we've got different players. I've sacrificed a lot, trying to make everybody feel comfortable, and that's normal.
“We've all got to sacrifice and if it means taking less shots just to make sure everyone is happy and keep winning, then that's what we've got to do. But at the same time, we've still got to understand what's going on around us and how we can help each other be better.”
Statistically, Embiid has not sacrificed much. He’s first in the NBA in post-ups per game with 7.9, down just slightly from last season’s 8.1. He still leads the Sixers by a wide margin in usage rate — 30.3 percent this season compared to 32.7 in 2018-19 — and is taking the same number of threes per 36 minutes, 4.4.
However, it’s worth remembering that Embiid said during training camp that he hoped to shoot fewer threes this season.
“Like I’ve always said before, I don’t like shooting threes,” he said on Oct. 4. “But this year since we’re going to have Ben [Simmons] willing to take those threes, maybe it’s going to put my game more inside. I’m hoping that he will shoot them, so I do my job, what I do inside.”
Simmons has, by and large, not been “willing to take those threes,” making only two. Embiid was asked Wednesday if he’d like Simmons to shoot more from the outside, and whether that could help Embiid’s game.
“It could,” he said. “It's whatever he feels comfortable doing. Obviously that will help, but like I always tell him, whatever he feels comfortable doing, do it. We’re all going to try to keep helping, but he's been doing his thing.”
For now, Embiid portrayed himself as being in a difficult, uncertain position.
“Our offense hasn't been good, but I always say, coaches don't go out there and make shots for us, they don't make plays,” he said. “They can do a better job of setting everything up but at the end of the day, we make the plays. Like I said, from time to time, you don't know what you're getting — I don't know if I'm going to get in the game and get the ball or not — but that should not affect anything.
“Like I said, it starts on defense and we've still got to do our job, even if it's not getting the ball some nights — still got to go out and play hard.”
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