Joel Embiid is one of the most dominant big men in the NBA and this season has entered the MVP race. But, according to our coach Jens Leutenecker, “JoJo” is stuck in a wrong system with the Philadelphia 76ers. Here’s a breakdown of Embiid’s problem.

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid // Photo by Getty Images

Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford start alongside Embiid for 76ers coach Brett Brown. This starting five has Philly ranked sixth in the Eastern Conference, but that is almost entirely due to the team’s defense.

Offensively, the Sixers are 22nd in the NBA with low assist totals and high turnover numbers being among their main problems. A big factor is that no player in the starting five other than Richardson has hit more than a third of their three-pointers and Simmons still refuses to shoot from downtown.

Embiid’s post-up game has continually developed over the years, especially his face-up game in which he nearly unstoppable. Only Anthony Davis uses the face-up game more often than Embiid but he doesn’t convert nearly as often as “The Process”. An amazing 70 percent of Embiid’s face-up attacks end with two points – a drastic improvement that means he cannot be defended one-on-one at the edge of the paint.

Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott and co. like that a lot since they profit from the opponents doubling the Sixers big man with wide-open looks. And as opposed to previous years, Embiid has learned to read and manipulate the opponents’ defensive rotation. No player in the NBA faces as many double-teams as Embiid but it’s becoming easier for him to find his open teammates.

The clear trend in the NBA and its top players such as LeBron James, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo is for them to use their athletic or technical-tactical mis-matches to create offensive advantages and feed their teammates who wait on the wings to drain three-pointers over the defense. It’s one of the most efficient ways to play at the moment.

Enter Ben Simmons and Brett Brown. There is probably not an NBA star who fits worse with Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons. And there is probably no style that takes less advantage of the skills of a dominant center than Brett Brown’s. Despite having one of the most talented big men since Shaquille O’Neal, the 76ers only have an offensive rating of 108 points in 100 possessions – good for middle-of-the-pack in the NBA.

If you watch Philadelphia play, it’s not hard to see that the offense is out of sync. Blocks come too early or too late, players cut into the path of the dribbler and the spacing is really poor.

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid // Photo by Getty Images

It must be said, no other team plays the ball into the center in the post more often and that with an excellent efficiency. But that is the only category in which the 76ers are in the top 10 on offense.

With his wide body, Embiid would be an ideal pick-and-roll player, who would effectively set up dangerous shooters, could roll to the basket or finish himself with the euro-step. But these skills run parallel to a tactical problem in Philly.

First off, no team runs fewer pick-and-rolls than the 76ers and second, opposing defenses can afford to go under Embiid’s picks because of the lack of outside shooting from Simmons, Harris and co. They do get an open shot after the dribble but their 37 percent accuracy on twos and threes in those situations is the fourth-worst in the league. So we are back to the poor shooting.

Is everything bad with the Sixers? No. Brett Brown’s team has two distinct strengths: its defense and a major size advantage. Four of the five starters are 2.03m or taller and they are physical and defend well. And Embiid is a defensive anchor which has helped Philadelphia hold opposing offenses to just 101 points for 100 possessions. But how good could the 76ers be if only Embiid would be put into a better system.


by FIVE Magazine #165 – Team Analysis

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