Last night before the last regular season game of the year, we got a rather alarming update. 76ers’ GM Elton Brand seemed to hesitate when discussing his team’s best player, Joel Embiid’s health and readiness for the playoffs. When pressed about the issue after the game, coach Brett Brown abruptly cut off the line of questions and suggested the team would give a “fair” update on Joel’s health. Although Brand said he’s optimistic Embiid will play and Brown made clear he expects to have his starters for Saturday’s game against Brooklyn, that this isn’t a given (after how much time the big man has had to rest his knee down the stretch of the season) is a major concern.
Assuming that he will play, and that we probably won’t get a sense for how healthy he is until we see him in action it’s more important than ever for the Sixers to lighten his workload a bit on the offensive end. Embiid has been an absolute stud this season. He’s a bona fide MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and should probably make his first All-NBA team, as one of the league’s 5 most impactful players. But in order to preserve his health for a deep playoff run, and also to reach the team’s ceiling, it seems imperative he should be passing the ball a bit more.
Being a little bit more well-rounded offensively will make the Sixers a more formidable and less predictable opponent. It will increase their efficiency, and it will improve their defense which will lead to more transition opportunities and decrease turnovers. And last but not least, it will improve the case they can make to keep Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler this summer as they weigh other offers.
This isn’t the first time you’re hearing this from us at Liberty Ballers. Jackson Frank persuasively suggested the proper two-way balance for Embiid includes a bit less offense and more energy conserved for elite defense. And I recently noted that it might help the Sixers break Tobias Harris’ slump and reach their ceiling if they limited the big fella a bit too. And in a wonderful piece yesterday, Ben Falk, founder of Cleaningtheglass.com demonstrated a few instances where Embiid might be able to initiate more dribble hand off actions with JJ Redick, rather than attack a jam-packed paint or settle for jumpers.
Per Fantasylabs.com when Joel Embiid is on the court, using the current roster, he averages 20 FGA per 36 minutes. JJ Redick gets 14.7, Tobias Harris gets 11.8 and Jimmy Butler gets 11.9. Simmons gets 11.4. Even if Embiid was totally healthy, the team would benefit from a better and more balanced distribution.
In the 10 games where the team’s starting 5 has played together and they share the court, Embiid’s USG% was 34.7. That’s almost double that of his running mates:
Now they have been very very good in their 10 games together, and even though it’s a tiny sample size to work with, if we extrapolate the numbers to a per-game basis for any of the four starters when individually sharing the court with Joel, we see how unbalanced the field goal attempt distribution becomes. If Joel is in, he’s gonna go to work and play plenty of two-man game with Redick.
Take a look, courtesy of fantasylabs.com:
But the competition is going to get much stiffer now, and we want to keep everyone happy so they want to stay in Philadelphia and sometimes that means allowing them to shoot the ball more.
Here are some opportunities for him to share the ball a bit more in recent action:
Of course none of it really matters if Embiid isn’t healthy enough to play close to the level he has been at. They might not be able to make it passed the Nets, let alone past Toronto if he’s not healthy at all. But assuming he’s out there and playing well, being a more willing passer in the half-court setting, and sometimes initiating pick-n-rolls, dribble hand offs, or simply allowing someone else to have an isolation would probably allow the Sixers to advance further in the playoffs and give them their best chance at keeping everyone happy.