Early last week, SBNation published a post featuring the Dallas Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. and focusing on the ways the modern high-flyer can prevent injury. After reading, I thought to myself, “Thank Sam Hinkie that we don’t have to worry about the future of our franchise using his body as a weapon at the rim and risking injury.” Then I snapped back to reality and remembered that no small percentage of the success of the Sixers franchise rests on Joel Embiid’s shoulders, who played only 31 games in his first three seasons due to injury. Hoping to put my mind at rest, I looked at some of the landings Embiid has made in his career to see if his landing technique forecasts a long and healthy career or a potentially injury-prone future.
Per the article, there are three things to consider when looking to reduce the impact of a landing on the joints of your lower extremities. Let’s take them one at a time:
1. Don’t land with your feet outside your base.
In the January 11th game against the Knicks of last season (above), Embiid completes a driving layup and then lands with his legs extended at a 45-degree angle away from his body. This causes the knee to bend inward, putting a strain on the ACL. If you watch the continuation of the play, Embiid actually slips, causing the knee to cave even further inward and seemingly narrowly avoids a knee injury.
During the October 30th win against the Houston Rockets, Embiid shows progress with landing inside the trunk of his body. After putting in a layup against Nene, he lands with his feet right below his body, not putting any additional strain on his knees. He creates a strong base to land and does not twist the knee inward.
2. Don’t land with your leg straight.
Last season’s December 23, 2016 game against the Phoenix Suns had Embiid finishing a layup and landing on one leg, one leg that is almost completely straight. By not bending his leg, the force of his landing is not absorbed up through the muscles of the leg but rather by the joints. As we learned in high school physics, every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction, it’s Newton’s third law. Per By Any Means Basketball, poor landing mechanics can cause a force of over 10 times an athlete’s body weight to be absorbed by their joints. For 260ish-pound Joel Embiid, we’re talking 2,600 pounds of force. That force at which Embiid is meeting the ground is the same amount of force that the ground is exerting back, effectively keeping his foot from going through the floor, and most of that force is being absorbed by the knee, hip and ankle joints. To add insult to injury, pun intended, Embiid lands on one leg instead of two. The amount of force that his body comes down with is not diminished due to this one-legged landing, so instead of being distributed among two sets of leg joints, it is singularly absorbed by the left leg – probably not coincidentally the one that would sideline him for the rest of that season.
In last weekend’s game against the Warriors, Embiid landed after this layup with his knee and hip joints at an almost perfect 90 degrees. This allows the force of the landing to be absorbed by the leg muscles instead of the joints. Both feet are on the floor, and his weight seems to be evenly distributed throughout his foot. With Embiid’s history of foot problems, evenly distributing his weight throughout the foot helps from putting undue stress on the navicular bone.
3. Don’t resist the urge to fall
During this season’s home opener, Embiid has forward momentum upon his landing. However, instead of letting the momentum take his body forward, he stops it, putting unnecessary strain on his joints. In addition, he lands on one fairly straight leg, increasing the stress put on the joints.
In this season’s win against the Rockets, we see Embiid once again begin to fall. Instead of putting the force of his body against his joints and trying to keep himself from doing so, he allows the momentum of his body to take him forward and trips himself up a bit. This prevents the force of his body from being absorbed by his joints and instead uses it to propel him forward.
There is going to be no shortage of bad landings in basketball, not when you have 7-foot-tall explosive athletes flying through the air. In recent games, Embiid has exhibited positive landing technique showing that he has not developed bad habits a la Derrick Rose. He has created a strong base with his lower frame, landed on two feet and a bend in his knee, and occasionally taken a fall. So when Embiid says that we don’t need to worry when he falls and that he’s not made of glass, I think I’m going to start listening.