On the Beat: How Embiid is Exceeding Expectations
CAMDEN, NJ - Think Joel Embiid has played pretty well this pre-season? You’re not alone.
In fact, the big man’s promise has even topped the expectations of his head coach.
“I will tell you that he is better than I thought he was,” Brett Brown said Friday afternoon, following a 75-minute practice session at the 76ers’ training complex in Camden, New Jersey.
Through five appearances, Embiid is averaging 9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in a mere 13.1 minutes per game. Project those same statistics over a 36-minute rate, and the corresponding numbers leap to a stellar 25.9 points, 15.4 boards, and 3.3 swats.
No one, especially from within the Sixers organization, has ever suggested that part of the plan is for Embiid to ultimately assume a workload as intensive as 36 minutes per game. Still, the metric offers a level playing field by which to quantify his output.
“It’s important for everybody to hear me say this early - he’s doing some things five games into pre-season NBA basketball that I thought would take longer,” said Brown. “Those types of things are better than I expected for the reason that it’s just happened a little bit sooner.”
Along those lines, Brown feels Embiid is “navigating an NBA court” at an accelerated level, particularly in respect to “reading a defense.”
“That has surprised me,” Brown said.
Embiid’s success from the free throw line, however, has not caught Brown off guard. Conventional wisdom could very well lead one to presume that for a player of the Embiid's massive build, foul shooting might not come easily. To this point, the opposite has been the case.
In five contests, Embiid has been impressively reliable from the stripe. His 83.3 free throw shooting percentage (20-for-24) is second among all centers, while his 24 attempts are seventh in the league. He is the only player ranked that high who has played fewer than 80 minutes, so far having logged 65.
“I think I’ve been getting to the foul line a lot,” said Embiid. “I got a lot of stuff to work on on offense. It’s getting to be a little bit easier. It’s only going to improve.”
With the Sixers’ exhibition slate entering its home stretch, and the regular season on the immediate horizon, the team continues to work on establishing the proper “balance of pace and post” when Embiid is on the floor.
“That is the imminent challenge,” Brown put it.
Brown and his staff are also monitoring Embiid’s usage percentage, which measures how often an individual player accounts for his team’s offensive possessions.
“I think we’re tripping on it,” Brown said, believing that the Sixers are close to finding the right rhythm.
As of Friday morning, Embiid’s 37.1 usage percentage was second only to Anthony Davis’ usage percentage of 41.3. Based on Embiid’s capabilities, Brown has had a hard time holding back.
“He really makes you think you want to play through him a lot, at times almost every possession,” Brown admitted. “I feel, at times, I want to get him the ball more.
“Look at what he does in limited minutes. He just peppers stat sheets. We’re trying to space and play off him. He could be the best offense people like Robert Covington or Nik Stauskas could ever have.”
Prior to Thursday’s 100-79 loss to Washington, Embiid’s playing time had been capped at roughly 12 minutes, and limited exclusively to first halves. Against the Wizards, his minute budget increased to 15 minutes (he played 13 minutes, 55 seconds).
Now, heading into Saturday’s 7:00 PM pairing with Detroit, Brown indicated that Embiid could log as many as 18 minutes, some of which could carry over beyond intermission. Embiid's playing time had previously been divided into three "clumps" of minutes. On Saturday, there might be four.
"For them to bump it up to 18 [minutes] is going to be interesting to see,” said a happy Embiid, who registered 11 points and 12 rebounds Thursday. “Obviously, I want to play more. I want to help my team win. I’m excited.”
Aside from perhaps toning down the amount of energy he expends during his halftime warm-up routine, Embiid doesn’t envision changing his mindset much versus the Pistons, regardless of being cleared for a longer run.
“[Thursday] I felt like I didn’t try to force anything,” Embiid said. “Unselfish, play with my teammates, and try to play with each other.”
The approach has been serving him well, and resulted in more production than the Sixers initially considered possible.
“He’s dying to play,” said Brown. “That’s part of the responsibility of managing him.
“I think everybody...has seen enough early days to understand that he is extremely unique and very special, and special we need to keep him.”