76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's Hall of Fame prospects and Brett Brown's 'perfecting vanilla' philosophy

Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's Hall of Fame prospects and Brett Brown's 'perfecting vanilla' philosophy

The Sixers took down the team with the best record in the NBA, pushed aside questions about the Celtics having their number and beat the Hornets behind JJ Redick’s first career double-double. Though the week ended on a low, with a loss Saturday to the 26-48 Hawks, the Sixers hold a three-game lead over the Pacers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference (see standings). 

Here are a couple of observations from the week:

• Joel Embiid averaged 34.7 points, 16.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this week. His stats sometimes creep up on you, but it feels like his numbers don’t even properly capture his contributions, especially against Milwaukee and Boston.

After Friday’s practice, Embiid said he not only wants to be the best Sixer ever, but “the best to ever do it" (see story). He mentioned wanting to eventually shoot 90 percent from the foul line and later added he’s “sure he’s going to get to a point” where he’s a 40 percent three-point shooter. To have a realistic chance of being the best player ever, Embiid may very well have to reach those absurd marks. Dirk Nowitzki, the best big man shooter ever, only hit marks of 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line once, in the 2006-07 season.

Embiid’s ambition of being the greatest of all time might be a stretch (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with his drive to be great). The thought that he could one day be a Hall of Famer, though, is not anywhere close to delusional. If he can stay healthy — which, for the sake of the sport of basketball, let’s hope he does — the Hall of Fame looks downright probable. His consistent dominance and special skills suggest as much, and so do the stats. 

Our Reuben Frank found an incredible stat on Embiid. Only nine players in NBA history have had 3,500 points and 1,500 rebounds through their first 150 career games, per Basketball Reference. One of them is Embiid, and the other eight are Hall of Famers. 

• Brett Brown likes to talk about “perfecting vanilla” — sharpening the basics and avoiding overcomplication. The wins over the Bucks and Celtics are good arguments for his approach, illustrations of how the Sixers have the talent to beat elite teams without doing anything too exotic.

But perfecting vanilla doesn’t necessarily exclude incorporating subtle wrinkles. Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia last week the Sixers are interested in more “slashing” around Embiid in the post, more off-ball movement against “blind” defensive players (see story). We’re also starting to see more pick-and-rolls between Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. For the most part, though, the offense has a few fundamental actions that work.

You can’t say the same about the defense. 

The strategy of putting Embiid on Giannis Antetokounmpo and living with the other Bucks taking threes was ultimately effective, though Milwaukee still put up 43 points in the fourth quarter Sunday. The defensive effort in the first half against Charlotte was mediocre, and the Sixers were fortunate the Hornets missed a number of open threes late. Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier had their way Wednesday for the first two quarters. And in Atlanta, the team’s pick-and-roll defense was not pretty — miscommunications, players getting caught on top of screens without much resistance, inconsistent help defense.

Though the Sixers’ offense appears to have the freedom to expand a little beyond the basics if they’d like, the defense doesn’t have that same luxury. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: Are the Sixers still a Finals contender?

sixers-talk-joel-embiid-all-star.jpg
NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Are the Sixers still a Finals contender?

The Sixers are off to a solid start for any team, but the Sixers were built to be a championship contender. Danny Pommells and Anthony Gilbert discuss that and who will take up the open role in the starting lineup on this edition of Sixers Talk, presented by Wilmington University.

• Are the Sixers still a Finals contender? (2:00)

• Who will move into the starters lineup in place of Al Horford? (6:34)

• Did the Sixers miss on the trade deadline? (10:31)

• This team lacks veteran leadership (20:42)

• Story time with Anthony Gilbert (29:03)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Joel Embiid thinks idea he can't be effective with Ben Simmons is 'BS'

Joel Embiid thinks idea he can't be effective with Ben Simmons is 'BS'

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both rejected the notion that they’re incapable of playing together effectively Saturday at All-Star Weekend in Chicago. 

”I think it's BS, because when you look at the last couple years, the last two years that we've been playing together, it's not a problem,” Embiid told reporters, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “This year it's only been a problem because our offense has struggled.

"It's definitely going to be better after the All-Star break. I mean, just look at the last two years, what we've been able to do. I think it can work, and it's going to work."

The Sixers were indeed very good when the pairing shared the floor the past two years. Lineups with Embiid and Simmons had net ratings of plus-15.5 in 2017-18 and plus-7.8 in 2018-19. This season, that number has dropped to plus-1.3.

"It takes time," Simmons said. "Not everything is perfect. Not everything works right away. I love playing with Joel. I think he's an amazing talent, a guy I respect for his game, and I know he feels the same way about me. We continue to go the right way. There's so many different things that we haven't tried. We've got a lot of talent. It's scary how good we can be."

On Feb. 5, Embiid suggested he was having to detract from his own offensive game for the greater good.

“How we played last year, obviously a different structure, the ball movement was better, and this year we've got different players,” he said. “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.”

Pertinent statistics don’t seem to support the idea that Embiid has had to sacrifice much. While his usage rate has dropped from 32.7 to 30.3, his post-ups per game are identical (8.1) and his three-point attempts per 36 minutes are nearly the same (4.6 this year, 4.4 last year). 

However, until Brett Brown’s major adjustment Tuesday night vs. the Clippers, he’d been in a starting lineup with Al Horford, a pairing that hasn’t been beneficial for either player. Embiid and Horford are the only Sixers' two-man lineups with at least 400 minutes together to have a negative net rating (minus-1.1) and have been poor offensively.

As for Embiid and Simmons, the two were strong against the Clippers, both personally and as a combination. They complemented each other well in the high and low post as Embiid had 26 points and nine rebounds and Simmons posted 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Brown said it was “arguably the best game those two have paired up with” since he started coaching them. 

Simmons will be on Team LeBron and Embiid will be on Team Giannis for Sunday night’s All-Star Game. 



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers