Prior to an early March win against the Hornets last season, Brett Brown told a scrum of reporters that he wanted Joel Embiid to shoot more threes, ideally six to eight a game. A tall task for a 32.5% shooter who has hovered around three attempts from deep during his short career.
Brown, however, noted that the Sixers’ unorthodox situation at the point guard position leaves them looking to keep up with the evolving game in unconventional ways.
Fast forward to the present, subtract some veteran shooters, and the Sixers find themselves in a spacing bind.
The lack of gravity from Philly’s perimeter players gives opponents the ability to sell out on clogging the post. It also allows defenses to key in on Ben Simmons’ on drives, forcing bad passes.
The spacing issue has been much discussed over the first few weeks of the season with many potential fixes (some more possible than others) arising from the Sixers zeitgeist: a trade for the seemingly non-available Bradley Beal, Simmons and Fultz going through hypnosis treatment, or maybe Dario Saric taking a nap.
It’s possible, though, that Brown identified the solution last year. Enter Joel Embiid.
Embiid has yet to fulfill Brown’s wish, but he is starting to trend in the right direction. After claiming that he was going to swear off threes this season, Embiid has actually upped his frequency from deep, taking over 20% of his 21 FGA per game from beyond the arc. Even with that increase, though, he is hovering a tick under five attempts per game.
Currently sitting at fifth in the NBA with a 30.8% usage rate, increasing Embiid’s workload is not an option for the Sixers, but they can sharpen it.
Embiid is currently taking 44% of his shots from the mid-range and coincidentally making them at the same percentage.
Many of these mid-range jumpers come off an exaggerated pump fake that will lead into a contested jumper. Increasing his attempts from three will force teams to honor Embiid with closeouts on those shot fakes, even if he doesn’t necessarily increase his accuracy.
An under the radar improvement Embiid has made this season from last is his increased balance. He’s more controlled on his drives and he looks more comfortable putting the ball on the court. Getting defenders to bite on more shot fakes will lead to more Euro-Stepping and more shots at the rim for Embiid.
Last season, Joel Embiid took 214 total three pointers, but only 13 of them came from the corner. Embiid hit four of his corner attempts last season, which was right about on par for his 30.8% overall mark on threes for the season. The obvious reason for the lack of corner threes from Embiid is that it’s a spot where he rarely finds himself on the court, as he is usually placed on the block for a post up or near the top of the key for kick-outs, DHOs, and screen setting.
Brett Brown, though, is known for kneading new wrinkles into his playbook as the season progresses. Recently, Embiid has been drifting out to the corner more while the Sixers have the ball. Although it hasn’t lead to any attempts from deep, it has opened up the floor and led to some easy buckets for Mr. Process.
Defenses are terrified of Ben Simmons when he is moving downhill with the ball in his hands. Seriously look at the eyes of the four Clippers defenders who are back to defend the Sixers break.
They are all fixated on keeping Simmons in front of them, so much so that they lose track of Joel Embiid. By running out to the corner, Embiid gave Simmons the proper space to operate on the break and by making the right cut, he got the easiest two points he’ll get.
Embiid found himself in a similar position in the half court as the Sixers were closing out their win over the Clippers.
This time, it was the gravity of J.J. Redick that caused the Clippers to lose track of Embiid and once again Embiid capitalized.
Aside from taking advantage from the corner, Embiid also granted his coach’s wish in the win against the Clippers, taking eight attempts from beyond the arc, ultimately making three of them.
Too often in the modern NBA, players and coaches preach positionless basketball but don’t practice it. Joel Embiid isn’t a center — he’s a supernova. Embiid doesn’t have to post up because he’s 7’2’’, he posts up because he’s an absolute terror for teams to deal with on the block. The three Clippers tasked with guarding Embiid totaled 13 fouls between themselves, mainly as a product of not being able to handle The Process. Likewise, Embiid’s height should not bind him to the block each possession,regardless of what Shaq and other big men from yesteryear would have you believe.
Against the Clippers, Embiid scored 41, was able to keep the defense honest from behind the arc giving his teammates space to operate, and still bully the defense on the block. Embiid’s performance against L.A. potentially gave the Sixers a blueprint to follow as they look to build an Eastern Conference contender this season.
All stats from CleaningTheGlass.com and Basketball-Reference.com