It already feels like a long time since game 4 took place. First we didn’t think Joel Embiid would play. Then he did and looked solid, if a step slow. That is until some player named Jared Dudley poked the bear and Joel woke up and just destroyed the Nets. Embiid also made some very nice passes and blocks.
Here are three observations since game 4 based on the game and some top storylines.
1) Joel the benevolent
Some of us here at Liberty Ballers have suggested that Joel Embiid work less hard on offense and work harder on defense. Part of this thinking included the idea that more opportunities (and more energy) for him to set up his teammates would lead to synergies. You know, whole is greater than the sum type stuff.
For example, Joel is often dared to shoot open shots. As such, there are plenty of times when his defender is sagging far off of him, hoping that he takes a deep shot or settles for a mid-ranger. Some of those times Joel obliges, (like in the huge victory in Milwaukee back in March when he took 13 triples and a handful of mid rangers) and other times he looks to drive or set up teammates. That means there’s lots of space for his teammates if they’re slick and he’s willing to share. Since game one this series, he’s looked to drive to set up teammates.
In the video above, his first instinct was often to screen or pass and it seemed to work very well for Philadelphia. They missed some easy shots and had some unforced turnovers too so there may be room to grow here also. They also didn’t have Jimmy Butler for the home stretch. Plenty of room to grow.
You can see Embiid throw a turnover on an attempt to hit a cutting Tobias Harris. Later in the clip, in crunch time no less, they try the play again and Joel hits Harris for a huge layup.
Plays like those above suggest to me a ceiling version of the Sixers’ offense and one they could use to knock out the Nets and would absolutely need in order to beat the Raptors.
Of course he can still dominate and get buckets; but deferring and finding ways to get everyone else around him going makes the team much much harder to defend.
That way, Embiid can dedicate more effort to being an all-world defender like the Athletic’s Derek Bodner describes in that great piece linked here.
2) Joel the hungry
As Embiid has been severely limited since the NBA All-Star Break, his health and conditioning have come into question. One issue over his time in Philadelphia has been his weight and his diet. Once known for drinking lots of Shirley Temples (cups of carbonated sugar) he has more recently made headlines for his absurd fast-food cravings. According to former teammate Landry Shamet (now apparently a rat for TMZ) Joel would order maybe four Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches, a couple french fries, and four cookies-and-cream milkshakes. It’s pretty extreme and with his knee tendinitis and resulting lack of conditioning it’s probably worth discussing.
The topic isn’t new in Philadelphia:
Embiid weighs 280. Would like to be 275 but he thinks anything less makes him "too skinny and not as strong." He feels like it's more about conditioning than his weight.— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) May 10, 2018
But a new clip from TMZ shows Joel leaving the Shake Shack (a place he frequents) on Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn following the team’s game 4 win vs. the Nets. Some fans and media outlets have expressed concern about his diet and therefore his commitment to health and potential greatness.
Is the story overblown or is this a legit cause for concern?
The truth is, if he were healthy all the time and didn’t have conditioning issues, people wouldn’t care as much about what he ate.
It’s not realistic to expect Embiid to revolutionize his diet and lose weight in order to reduce the pressure on his knee tendon immediately. (We would’t ask him to fast for the playoffs, right?)
But bigger picture, that Embiid does seem to have a very hard time mastering his diet even while dealing with things like inflammation in his knee (issues that benefit from reduced weight) is certainly a cause for concern.
In an ideal world for fans, Joel would be doing anything and everything to get to 100 percent and of course that would include avoiding fast and mostly processed foods (even if Shake Shack has some hormone free, non-antibiotic options and even if we account for the possibility he avoided the sugary buns, fries, milkshakes and condiments). Ideally, he’d be lighter and eating much more nutritious stuff and he’d avoid adding pressure onto his joints.
In reality though it’s probably something better addressed over the summer.
The championship version of the Sixers probably plays (a lighter version of) Joel less minutes and less games than they did the first half of the year. And he probably eats a lot healthier than he is now.
I’m attempting to thread the needle here on perspectives. It’s not the end of the world that he went to Shake Shack after a win. Some guys do much worse and are simply “too lit” for the NBA grind. Heck, there are rumors of Michael Jordan enjoying a few brews in locker rooms after games. But since Embiid has already had such a problem staying healthy and in peak form over his career it’s absolutely in his best interest to significantly limit junk food next season and beyond. Swapping in some Sweetgreens for Shake Shack could be a big enhancement to his health and his game.
At least until he’s healthy enough and light enough that we stop caring.
3. What is going on with the Nets Front Office?
NBA has fined Nets owner $35K for this tweet. https://t.co/b8cpOCmO3g— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 22, 2019
Sources: Nets and GM Sean Marks were livid over belief Embiid’s flagrant 1 fouls in Games 2/4 should’ve been deemed a 2. More than message to league with ref challenge, Marks intended to message his team on how franchise is determined to support way they're competing in series.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 21, 2019
Jared Dudley, a player who I’ve always found likable but who isn’t an impact player anymore, did his absolute best to get under the Sixers’ skin. His dastardly antics and shenanigans successfully net a huge advantage for the Nets when he and Jimmy Butler were ejected from game 4, (and eventually fined) a monster trade-off for Brooklyn. Nets’ star D’Angelo Russel got involved and seemed to shove an official in the back and the momentum caused other players (like Ben Simmons) to fall into the stands. Neither Russel nor any others were even disciplined because they weren’t “instigators.”
This was a monumental equalizer for the Nets, even though they still couldn’t eek out a W. They benefitted tremendously from the way this game was officiated even though there were missed calls for both sides; as a home team might expect.
Joel Embiid made what appeared to be a clean block (or common foul) on Jarrett Allen but it was ruled a flagrant and a melee ensued when Dudley picked his spot and caused a row.
It seems the Nets’ Brass are now either genuinely appalled about the way things were handled or they’re looking to do a little marketing about how they support their own with July’s free agency in mind. Or both. Maybe this was all their master plan to woo Jimmy Buckets with their love for confrontation like he has.
It seems silly. From a big picture stand point, I think the NBA has a bit of a problem on its hands. The Nets should not be rewarded for what happened like they were. The NBA should do more to discourage the type of shenanigans Dudley employed.
Why wouldn’t a low-impact player like Jonathon Simmons or Greg Monroe pick a fight with Kawhi Leonard next series? Even if Leonard keeps his cool maybe Serge Ibaka will come to his aid and get himself tossed. The entire Sixers organization can then divvy up the resulting fine! Heck we can start a GoFundMe on Twitter for it.
I’d like to see more done to make it less tempting to try what Dudley did in the future. And I don’t really understand why the Nets Brass seems to think they’re victims here. There were bad calls all around but Jimmy Butler being out was worth a lot more than a couple of missed calls.