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Championship Contender Check in: Joel Embiid’s ridiculous numbers with Ben Simmons on the bench, and being happy for Jrue Holiday

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The Sixers are back in 1st place in the East. Heck yeah.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the second edition of the Championship Contender Check-in! The Sixers are among the NBA’s best, with a real shot at bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, so we’re here to keep an eye on what their stingiest competition come June is doing at this current time.

1. Some Sixers stats on Embiid, Simmons and Thybulle

I’m well aware that these check-in’s are supposed to be oriented on the other top teams outside of Philadelphia (I should know considering I pitched the concept to the wonderful Kevin F. Love), but these numbers unearthed by my good friend Cody Houdek who writes and podcasts for the wonderful Premium Hoops site were simply too juicy to keep to myself.

The first came in this tweet, where he revealed just how jarring of an split there is in Joel Embiid’s scoring number when his co-star Ben Simmons is on the court vs off.

Maybe you read that conglomeration of charts and numbers and wonder what’s the big deal here? Put it this way:

With both Simmons and Embiid on the court, Embiid is still an incredible basketball player, scoring at around MVP levels on plus-efficiency.

But with Simmons on the bench, Embiid turns into a world destroying, fear inducing, mother of all monsters war machine that obliterates opponents without mercy. To score 41.1 points per 100 possessions would already be crazy impressive. For reference, 41.1 points per 100 possessions would be good for 2nd in the NBA behind only Embiid himself at a 42.7 points per 100! To score roughly the same number of points despite being given only 34 of the number of opportunities is bananas cream pie, to quote BGN’s Benjamin Solak.

Equate that out to points scored an equal number of opportunities, and you get an absurd 54.8 points per 100 for Embiid in non-Simmons minutes. Holy Moses (Brown).

As for the efficiency numbers, those are displaying his relative true shooting, which is a player’s true shooting percentage minus the league average true shooting percentage. Embiid’s +5.7 with Simmons on board is nice. His +12 with Simmons off the floor is 2016 Steph Curry type stuff. Ridiculous.

To be clear — THIS IS NOT A CALL TO BREAK UP EMBIID AND SIMMONS. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A CALL TO BREAK UP EMBIID AND SIMMONS.

As shown in those numbers, the Sixers and Embiid still rock out with Simmons by his side. But those numbers are too crazy to just ignore them altogether. Just save them to the hard drive for now.

Cody also wrote a fantastic piece on how to properly scout and evaluate perimeter defense in the NBA, and he delved heavy into both Simmons and Matisse Thybulle — who he believes to be the best perimeter defender in the NBA at this time. Here’s a quick snippet:

In short, Matisse Thybulle is awesome, Joel Embiid is awesome, and most importantly Cody is awesome. Follow him @codyhoudek on Twitter.

2. Regardless of the contract, Jrue Holiday is a stud

After shocking the NBA when they shipped out a mother load of draft picks to acquire Jrue Holiday, the Milwaukee Bucks doubled down this past weekend by signing the 12-year veteran guard to a four-year contract extension worth $135 million, and that value could rise to $160 million over four years with incentives. Many in the NBA Multiverse were taken aback at the sticker value, deeming the move an understandable overpay seeing that Milwaukee relinquished so much capital to get Holiday on the roster this past year.f

Well after Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 47 points on 18-for-18 shooting on the Blazers’ heads on April 2, the Greek Freak has not played as he’s been sidelined with left knee soreness. Well, never for the Bucks to fear, Jrue Holiday was here! (Exits to a descending cascade of boos).

In the next two games, Holiday dropped 33 and 29 points, respectively, as Milwaukee split a pair of road games, and shot a combined 25-for-41 from the field, all while maintaining his excellent defense. Both he and Khris Middleton can at times fill a similar role as to what Tobias Harris does for the Sixers, isolating in the mid-post vs. smaller mismatches, though Jrue often opts in favor of facing up to his opponents and pivoting around them rather then shooting turnaround fadeaway like Tobi.

(Also, shoutout to Jrue for getting a freakin’ poke steal after hitting the quarter-ending shot to boot. He’s got a little Thybulle/Simmons in him, too).

I don’t know if Holiday is good enough of a shooter and self-creating scorer to help Milwaukee succeed in places where they’ve failed during the past two postseasons, but I do know that his addition can only help instead of hurt. Locked in a tight match vs. Sacramento a week ago, the Bucks’ final two minutes of offense essentially boiled down to “give it to Jrue and get out of the way”, and he delivered with an and-one step back middy, as well as a beautiful deceleration on a rim attack to avoid the contest of the rotating defender.

While on the surface Holiday is only averaging 17.1 points per game, he’s doing it on a career-high three-point percentage (40 percent), a career-best true shooting percentage that exceeds any of his previous season marks by over three percentage points (60 percent) and that’s even with a brief case of early season struggles. Over his last 13 games, Holiday is averaging 21 points on 47 percent three-point shooting, while also contributing over six assists per game and averaging over 2.0 “Stocks” (steals + blocks). If Tobias Harris has taught the Sixers fanbase anything this past year, it’s that it’s okay to overpay somebody if they’re still one of the three best players on your team and they help your franchise’s goal of winning a championship.

One last thing I want to touch on — isn’t it absolutely wild how long it’s been since Jrue Holiday was a member of the 76ers? The man spent four seasons in Philadelphia and somehow seven in New Orleans. If feels like just yesterday that 12 year-old me watched new General Manager Sam Hinkie exchanged the All-Star point guard for Nerlens Noel and a first-round pick that eventually netted the Sixers Dario Saric. Alas, it’s nearly been a decade since the franchise-changing 2013 draft, and I for one am glad to see Holiday still out there earning money and contributing to meaningful basketball. He was the young gun on the first Sixers team I ever really got to watch and grow with, and seeing him succeed makes me nothing but joyful. Rock on Jrue.

3. Bojan Bogdanovic’s place in the Jazz’s funky flow

When the Utah Jazz inked Bojan Bogdanovic to a four-year, $73 million dollar deal in the summer of 2019, it was widely heralded as a fantastic move by the front office out in Salt Lake. Following two straight postseason losses to James Harden and the Houston Rockets, it seemed as though the Jazz needed to do whatever possible to secure more shooting and off-the-dribble scoring punch around their two franchise pillars in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

“Bogey” averaged a career best 20.2 points per game during the 2020 season while painting a true shooting percentage over 60, though he was afforded a career-high in field goal attempts as well. His scoring has come back down to an average of 14.8 per contest in 2021, though he’s ceded more field goal attempts to his teammates, but more importantly his true shooting percentage has dropped to a meh 56.4 percent.

The Jazz have blitzed opponents all year with their swing-swing sequences along the perimeter, as they surround Gobert with deadly shooters and only need one drive into the interior to get the other team in scramble mode. Bogdanovic is fine when he’s on the receiving end of those plays, shooting around 37.8 percent on threes on which he takes 0 dribbles, per NBA.com.

However, he also has a tendency to disrupt the potential for such sequences before they can even get going by calling his own number off the dribble and attempting to create a bucket for the Jazz.

Bogdanovic is not a heavy isolation player, only averaging 0.7 possessions per game according to NBA.com, but these classifications are tricky and don’t count those 1-to-2 dribble attacks that are preceded by a swing pass from a teammate. On those iso’s, he grades out in bleak fashion at the 8th percentile.

More importantly, after his 0-dribble shot attempts that make up 48.5 percent of his shot profile, his next highest portion is shots that come after 3-to-6 dribbles at 20.1 percent frequency. On those shots, Bogdanovic is struggling to the tune of a 42.7 effective field goal percentage and ranks in 14th percentile league wide.

Bogdanovic obviously still has value as a spacing and mismatch exploiting scorer, but I think that Utah might be better suited going forward if he learns to call his own number less often.