76ers

It's not as simple as Joel Embiid needing to be in the post more

It's not as simple as Joel Embiid needing to be in the post more

If you’re a Sixers fan, you’ve likely watched Joel Embiid and thought to yourself — or yelled at your TV — “Why isn’t he in the post?”

NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh not only agrees with you but has numbers to back this notion up.

Embiid’s average shot distance this season is 12.4, which is by far the highest mark of his career. Last season, in the 19 games where Embiid took at least eight shots from three feet or less, the Sixers were 16-3. The only game he’s done that this season is in a win in Atlanta.

Cut and dry, right? Just get this dude in the post and go to work.

While Embiid does have a tendency to "float" on the perimeter, it’s not that simple. If you’ve watched the Sixers this season, you’ve seen aggressive double teams thrown Embiid’s way. Sure, he’s seen double teams in the past, but nothing like in 2019-20. His goose egg in Toronto gave teams somewhat of a blueprint. 

Marc Gasol has always given Embiid problems, but head coach Nick Nurse decided to double Embiid on every single post touch. It was easily the most aggressive tactic we’ve seen vs. Embiid. While it worked that night and the Raptors came away with the win, it’s not necessarily the greatest strategy. What opposing coaches are saying is they want to take away Embiid and make the rest of the Sixers beat us.

And they have.

Since that loss in Toronto — a game the Sixers still had very much in their grasp before crumbling in the last few minutes — the team is 8-2 with Embiid in the lineup. Their only losses have been a flat-out clunker against the Wizards and a funky loss against the Heat where they looked like they’d never seen a zone defense.

We’ve seen Tobias Harris elevate his game in those circumstances. In those 10 games, Harris has averaged 23.4 points and taken 19.3 shots per game, both above his season averages. 

But the bottom line is the strategy has worked in slowing Embiid, but not the Sixers.

Haberstroh also points to Embiid’s 38-point performance in Boston where he stepped up after facing criticism from Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. Again, it’s not black and white. The Celtics erroneously didn’t double Embiid as much as others have. They were practically begging Embiid to have a breakthrough game.

The fact that the Sixers hit 14 of 28 from three was a huge help.

“Whenever I was guarded with single coverage, I took advantage of it,” Embiid said to reporters after that game. “If they don’t make shots it’s easier to double team me. If they do, you got to make a decision — do you want to give up a three or just hope that your big man can try and stop me? It’s a hard decision to make, but like I said, it goes back to I give them a lot of credit — my coaches and my teammates.”

With all that said, there are things Embiid can do better to get himself more touches closer to the basket. He often doesn't run rim to rim and "floats" around the perimeter instead of trying to get early post position. When he's setting screens for ball handlers, he can roll harder and more frequently to the basket.

It’s fair to want Embiid in the post more. He already leads the league in post ups per game by a wide margin, but Brett Brown and Embiid have said they’d like that number to go up even higher. When he’s covered 1-on-1, he’s almost impossible to stop.

But if he’s double teamed, he needs to keep making the right decisions and have his teammates make the opponent pay.

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Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' relationship, if the Sixers are going to go on a run, stability around the team and more on this edition of Sixers Talk.

• Are you encouraged by the way Jo and Ben acted toward each other during All-Star weekend? (2:00)

• The team's mettle will be tested with six of the next nine games on the road (5:45)

• Are the Sixers finally poised to go on a run? (7:43) 

• Eastern Conference betting odds (14:40)

• Is there enough stability and structure in the organization? (20:54)

• How troubling would it be if Jimmy Butler and the Heat go further than the Sixers? (31:47)

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Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Joel Embiid did not appear bothered by his left hand. He sought out contact, didn’t seem to be in pain or discomfort, and posted 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also did not wear a splint on his left hand, as he'd done since returning from a torn ligament in his ring finger.

A team spokesperson said Wednesday that will remain the case with the Sixers, and that Embiid will now use buddy tape on his hand.

After Embiid shot 6 for 26 on Feb. 6 against the Bucks, head coach Brett Brown told reporters in Milwaukee he thought Embiid’s hand was affecting his shooting. 

Embiid had also said his hand was having an adverse impact.

“The Miami game, you’re kind of scared sometimes, you’re just trying to look for a foul or try to be physical,” he said. “Especially on the rebounds — I think that’s where it affects me the most. But, like I said, it’s not an excuse. I’ve gotta just figure it out and keep pushing.”

Still, Brown leaned toward the metaphorical after practice Wednesday when asked a broad question about Embiid’s health. 

I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement, seeing this final third home — to grab the team by the throat and lead us in a bunch of different areas. ... I've been with him a long time, and when I look at him and I talk to him and I hear his words ... and we're always sort of, like you would with your children, judging their body language and all that. 

“I just think he's in a really good space. As it relates to the physical conditioning, we just went up and down hard for about 60 minutes — really up and down, up and down, up and down — saw no drop off. If you study the tape from the other night and you watch Joel Embiid run the floor and some of his rim runs … we all would be saying, 'Well, shoot, it can't get any better than that.' And so I think his fitness level is fine, and I think his headspace is even better. 

As for Embiid’s hand, Brown deferred judgement. After missing nine games with the injury, Embiid has played in eight contests, averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent on three-point shots and 69.9 percent at the foul line.

“I believe I'll be able to tell more when when he gets double teamed at what I call the up block … and he's forced to pass more with his left hand, which used to be all bandaged up,” Brown said. “I used to get worried in that environment where people would come hard looking to whack it or double team him from that floor spot. I look forward to seeing him pass from that floor spot.

“It's easier on the other side, the down side, with his right hand, and I think that's where it will stand out probably the most for me, to see the difference of no wrap and the one that used to be wrapped.”

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