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Drew Hanlen: ‘Now I think [Joel Embiid] just kind of completely turned his focus off of MVP’

A few key takeaways from Skills Trainer, CEO of Pure Sweat, Drew Hanlen’s LB pod appearance about Joel Embiid heading into another season of his prime for Sixers.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Four Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A few weeks ago we got the chance to catch up with Drew Hanlen, CEO of Pure Sweat Basketball, and Joel Embiid’s skills trainer.

Fresh off a cameo in Adam Sandler’s Philadelphia 76ers themed NBA movie ‘Hustle,’ it was a big year for team Pure Sweat. Embiid was MVP runner-up for the second straight season, Jayson Tatum made All-NBA First Team, leading Boston to the Finals, while All-Star clients like Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal got max deals. Even rising star clients like Tyler Herro, voted Sixth Man of the Year, and RJ Barrett are about to make some serious bank as well.

But even while on the road, apparently the grind doesn’t stop for Coach Drew:

In case you missed our original interview with Hanlen, you can find it here, posted on June 19.

But while we have a lull in the action following the NBA Draft and early wave of free agency, it feels like there were some nuggets about his superstar client worth revisiting as Embiid prepares for the upcoming 2023 season.

Could Joel be washing his hands of regular season popularity contests?

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The day we learned officially that Nikola Jokic was voted MVP and Joel was runner up for the second season in a row, Embiid had some interesting thoughts about the voting process:

“I’m not mad, but that’s two years in a row. I put myself in that position, it didn’t happen, it’s almost like at this point, it’s whatever. Whatever happens happens. Last year, I campaigned about it. This year, I answered questions when I was asked and the next few years until I retire, it’s almost like to me, it’s just, I don’t know. I don’t know what else I have to do to win it and to me, it’s just at this point, it’s whatever. It’s all about focusing, not that I wasn’t focused on the bigger picture, but it’s really time to really put my energy into the bigger picture which is to win the whole thing.”

So we asked coach Hanlen if he has any sense about Embiid’s mindset for the coming year, which will be Embiid’s age 28-29 season. Would Embiid be even more motivated since he was so close and return with a vengeance like he did last summer, or would he take a more patient approach as he implies, transitioning his focus “into the bigger picture?”

Per Hanlen:

“Now I think he’s just kind of completely turned his focus off of MVP and said ‘you know, hey listen, at some point in my career if I just continue to improve my game and keep playing dominant basketball it’ll happen but you know all of the energy and focus is on just winning a championship.”

You can speculate about what that could potentially mean if what Hanlen says proves prescient. Will Embiid be willing to take on more scheduled rest games, lightening his regular season work load to increase the chances he’s healthy come playoff time?

Will he implement a style that doesn’t prioritize leading the league in scoring? Will he place more emphasis on empowering teammates? Might the Sixers have a more balanced, creative, or unpredictable scheme moving forward?

They finished the 2021-2022 regular season with the 11th-best offensive rating. That rank jumped up to eighth over the final 24 games once Harden arrived. Still, Embiid finished the year with a league leading 37.5 USG% among stars, a mark that screams too many eggs in one basket, historically.

The best version of the Sixers will have a more diversified attack. If Harden is healthy, if Tyrese Maxey continues to improve, with Tobias Harris still very much a key, plus some turbo rotation upgrades in De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House, the Sixers really should be much improved.

In one roundabout sense, they’ve replaced Andre Drummond and Seth Curry with Harden, Tucker, Melton, and House going back to the Ben Simmons-less void Sixers of 2021-2022. So Embiid, hopefully, will not need to carry the same type of load between October to April.

Maybe they can afford to keep Embiid’s points, game totals and usage rate down a tick too.

Last year’s team wasn’t good enough on defense and the additions of Melton, Tucker, and House signify the team understood as much. They finished as the 12th-ranked defensive team per 100 possessions.

In my opinion, a version of Joel that load manages about 15 games here and there, picks up less of the scoring burden and a little more of the defensive burden, continues to improve as a passer, trusts his teammates (who need to be much better and much healthier) more and takes a few less chances (e.g. diving into the stands for loose balls while nursing hand and face ailments), that’s this team’s recipe for a deep title run.

Injury and workout updates

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Six Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Embiid tore a ligament in his right (shooting) thumb and had that surgically repaired. He also had surgery on his left index finger. His fractured orbital bone didn’t require surgery.

Per Hanlen, (again, talking to us back on Saturday June 18):

“He Facetimed me last week for the first time in a full sweat and has been working out ever since. He comes out here to L.A. to start his on court training in July so we’re, what? Two weeks away now from that stuff starting up, so everything is progressing well and we’re excited to get back to work and continue to grow and expand his game.”

So it sounds like Joel has been recovered and working out hard for three weeks now, give or take. And it sounds like his injuries are now pretty much in the rearview.

With a singular focus on winning a title, it seems plausible he may be more content to lurk in the shadows of our public MVP discourse moving forward. But that’s something that has worked for names like Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James in the past, and more recently, Steph Curry.