76ers

Larry Brown wants Joel Embiid to 'realize the gift that he has'

Larry Brown wants Joel Embiid to 'realize the gift that he has'

How close did Larry Brown get to getting Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to go to SMU?

Well, not close at all, but the former Sixers head coach remembers seeing both All-Stars as high schoolers while he was still coaching the Mustangs.

While he knew both guys were special then, he’s still blown away by how good they have become.

“I used to go down to Montverde to recruit and I saw Ben when he was just a young 15-year-old. I couldn’t believe how good he was,” Brown said as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast. “And then when I went to recruit Joel, he didn’t even start on his AAU team, which blew me away. And when you see those two guys [now], it’s incredible.”

Brown had no chance at landing Simmons, but Luc Mbah a Moute, who is largely responsible for Embiid taking up basketball in Cameroon, thought that Embiid would be a good fit for the Hall of Fame coach.

Embiid ultimately went to Kansas — “At SMU, you’re not going to beat Kansas,” Brown said. Brown still got to see a lot of Embiid and gather plenty of intel because of his close relationship with head coach Bill Self, who worked under Brown when he was the head man at Kansas. People at Kansas thought Embiid had the potential to be the best player ever at the school, according to Brown.

As Brown watches the All-Star center now, he sees one of the most special players in the league — with the potential to be even more special.

When I see Joel, I don’t think anybody is better than him. He might get mad at me today, but he needs to get on the block, and he needs to block every shot and dominate on the post because he’ll open it up for everybody else. And I don’t think there’s a better big man in the game than him. …

“My hope for him is that he would think about Kobe [Bryant] and Michael [Jordan] and watch ‘The Last Dance’ and realize the gift that he has, and just spend all his time working on that craft because there’s nobody that can be any more dominant than him.

Brown admits that he likes the game of yesteryear better, when players like Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing were pounding each other in the post. During Brown’s peak as a coach, the three-point shot was something for specialists, not for every player.

For that reason, he has awfully high praise for Simmons and an interesting take on the All-Star point guard’s unwillingness to shoot.

I can’t believe people in Philly are worried about Ben Simmons shooting a three-pointer. That kid is as good as any player in the league. He doesn’t need to shoot a three-pointer. God might punish me for that. … He can guard, he rebounds the ball, he passes the ball as well as anybody. He’s completely unselfish.

While Brown lavished praise upon Embiid and Simmons, he was much more critical about the way the current team is constructed. The Sixers sit at 39-26 and, if the playoffs were to happen in the traditional format, they’d be the East’s sixth seed.

Many have contemplated if Embiid and Simmons fit together and wondered if the duo is viable as a long-term championship contender. Brown believes there’s an issue with fit, but not with Embiid and Simmons.

Here’s my deal — they lost [Jimmy] Butler and JJ [Redick]. You can’t replace those two guys. Again, I hope I’m not having people mad at me. I’m a huge fan of Al Horford, but he’s a center. He has so many great gifts about being a great guy and an unbelievable teammate and a tremendous talent, but now he’s gotta guard four-men and four-men have to guard him, and that’s made it real tough for him. [Tobias] Harris has killed four-men because of his athleticism and ability to put it down on the floor and shoot an outside shot. Now he’s playing three and guarding smaller and quicker guys than him. ... 

“People think the game has passed me by — and it probably has — but I believe in defending, rebounding, sharing the ball, the scorers shoot the ball and the other guys do their job to make each other better. I just don’t know if that team fits. They might have the talent, but a lot of times you have talent but it’s a matter of people fitting together.

For more from Brown on Michael Jordan and his time coaching Allen Iverson, check out the latest edition of the Sixers Talk podcast below.

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Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Joel Embiid on Tuesday gave a thoughtful and detailed explanation for why he initially “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and still does not believe it is safe enough.

Wednesday, Kendrick Perkins reacted to Embiid’s comments on ESPN’s “First Take,” and his stance was not as well-reasoned. 

In part, Perkins said, “To me, this is just an excuse. If they get knocked out, this is going to be an excuse because their superstar was halfway in. … Man, go down there and hoop. I ain’t trying to hear that, man. It’s a billion-dollar bubble.”

Perkins’ response evades the substance of Embiid’s remarks. Among Embiid’s primary points were that he is concerned about consequences the coronavirus might have for himself and his family, that basketball isn’t the only thing which should define him, and that he is skeptical other players will adhere to the NBA’s health and safety protocols intended to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. (Embiid noted he doesn’t do much outside of basketball besides playing video games and will personally do everything necessary to mitigate risk.) What Perkins said addresses none of those issues.

Instead, he focused on the notion of Embiid somehow being weaker than other superstars who committed to resume play without publicly voicing any concerns. To express worry about doing one’s job in these circumstances — playing basketball, in Embiid’s case — does not suggest a lack of character or toughness. It is a logical sentiment, and there is nothing wrong with Embiid being candid on the subject. 

… If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” Embiid said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Florida, to the extent that many hospitals in the state have maxed out their ICU capacity. Embiid, who’s donated $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts, has every right to say he is “not a big fan” of playing in Orlando. 

Familiar cliches in sports about sacrifice for the sake of the team and adversity over obstacles do not apply to a pandemic. This is a different category from Embiid shifting how he plays to accommodate teammates, and a topic that should be approached seriously. 

Perkins is allowed to criticize Embiid, of course, but his viewpoint is lacking in empathy and perspective.

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What to make of Joel Embiid's answers to big on-court questions

What to make of Joel Embiid's answers to big on-court questions

Since March, Joel Embiid has played a little under 27 minutes of competitive basketball.

He was impressive in that time on the floor, recording 30 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Pistons on March 11 after a five-game absence with a left shoulder sprain.

However, the most notable part of Embiid’s conversation with reporters Tuesday did not have to do with on-court matters. He said that he “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and does not believe it is safe enough. As Embiid said, he is more than just a basketball player. It is certainly valid to be critical of the idea of playing in Orange County, where ICU beds are at full capacity in several hospitals because of a spike in coronavirus cases. 

Still, we’re obligated to discuss Embiid the player, a three-time All-Star starter. 

Embiid didn’t volunteer many specifics about his fitness but said on multiple occasions he “feels good.” Over the last week, Brett Brown and Josh Richardson have praised his conditioning.

“I don’t think my weight is an issue,” he said. “The only thing to always watch is my body fat, and I feel good. Like I said, I’ve been chilling. Just doing what I have to do.”

He acknowledged Tuesday he did not always play at full intensity this season. 

“During this year, there were a lot of times when I was not into the offense and I was just basically going through the same motions and all that,” he said. “But with the playoffs coming, I’ve just gotta be more assertive and just be that guy — just demand the ball and do what I do.”  

Though no major statistic that might signify aggression — usage rate, free throw rate, post-ups, three-point attempts per 36 minutes — dropped significantly this year for Embiid, he feels he’s capable of more. In 44 games, he’s averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists, playing 30.2 minutes per game. Brown said last Wednesday he’d ideally like to have Embiid play 38 minutes a game in the postseason. 

I know what I’m capable of, and I know what my teammates think of me. I know I’m capable of carrying the team,” Embiid said. “It’s all about me being assertive. If I feel like I'm not getting the ball, I've just got to talk to them and do what I have to do, but at the end of the day, I should never be in a position to complain about not getting the ball, just because of who I am. 

“I believe I can carry the team. I believe that by being able to do that, I’ve just got to take matters into my own hands. … Obviously I need to be in positions where I feel comfortable, and I'm sure my teammates are going to help me.

Embiid’s partnership with Al Horford was a prominent storyline for the Sixers before the hiatus, mostly because it hasn’t worked as the Sixers hoped offensively. Among regular Sixers duos, the team has the worst offensive rating when that pair is on the floor together, and by a three-point margin

In Embiid’s mind, the pairing isn’t doomed to fail, though he thinks the players surrounding himself and Horford are an important factor. 

I don’t believe there is a problem,” he said. “It’s just a matter of everybody buying in and being able to play their role. The pairing with Al, I feel like it has been fine. At times it could be better but then again, everyone on the court has a job and with that type of pairing you need to have shooters around or you need to have people or guys ... wanting to take that shot, especially, when you’ve got two inside presences like me and Al. 

“He can post up, I can post up and then around, you’ve got to be able to have guys that are willing to shoot and that are going to shoot the ball. I think that's what needs to happen, but I don’t think there’s a problem. I think we're fine. I like him, great guy. We've got to keep on working together. … We are better suited for the playoffs. We’ve got about eight games to get back into it ... so I’m excited.

Horford and Embiid have not played together with a cast of willing and able shooters very often this season. The Sixers as a team are 22nd in three-pointers attempted (31.6) and 14th in three-point percentage (36.2 percent). The duo has shared the floor most often with Tobias Harris, who’s taken the most threes on the team, but the Sixers only have a 101.0 offensive rating when those three play together.  

Embiid seems to think an intuitive understanding of how to play the game — when to take open shots, how to accommodate each other, when to feed the dominant big man in the post — can override what we saw in the first 65 games.

More than anything, he trusts his own abilities when he’s determined to attack. 

“We didn’t get the chance to see it as much this year,” he said, “but you can go back and look at last year’s regular season and what I did, and that’s the mindset I need to have — and even better — if I really want to achieve that goal, which is to win the championship.”

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