Training Camp | Already Looking Dominant, Embiid Strives for More Bully Ball

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Brett Brown is a man who chooses bold words wisely.

So last week, at a media luncheon, when the sixth-year head coach said he believes Joel Embiid has the chance to be “dominant” this season (before a single practice had been held, no less), the statement was enough to make you put down your pasta, and pay closer attention.

Brown wasn’t bashful about using the “D” word in association with Embiid again on Sunday, following what was only the second practice of training camp for the 76ers.  

And after enjoying a fully healthy summer on the heels of delivering one of the most impressive individual campaigns in recent franchise history, Embiid feels he’s got big things on the horizon, too.

But for as much as the Sixers and their All-NBA Second-Team, All-Star center are bullish on his prospects for 2018-2019, their mutual optimism doesn’t exist in an unchecked vacuum.

Both parties recognize that despite the ridiculous, historic production Embiid has shown in fewer than 100 regular season games, he could very well be capable of wreaking even greater havoc.

With a couple of modifications, that is.

That’s where bully ball comes in.

As its name implies, bully ball, in execution, doesn’t only require a certain degree of physical tenacity, but a move, get-out-the-way mentality as well.

At 7-feet, 260 pounds, Embiid’s got the physical component taken care of. Over the course of his brief, promising career, he’s demonstrated on multiple occasions how blistering he can be when he unleashes these genetic gifts in tandem with the uncanny skill he boasts for a player his size (think the 46-15-7-7 game against the Los Angeles Lakers).

It just sounds like Embiid and the Sixers simply want to see bully ball become a more regular part of the 24-year old’s on-court identity.

His off-season training program was tailored accordingly. Subsequently, the way he thinks about scoring seems to be shifting.

Here’s what Embiid had to say Sunday when he was asked to put bully ball in context:

“I feel like every time I catch the ball, it [should be] either a foul or a bucket.”

On the whole, Embiid’s interior output last season was above average. He ranked 20th in the league with 10.0 points in the paint per game, and generated 0.97 points per possession on post-ups (he was tied for first in the league with 9.4 post-up possessions per game).

Looking a little more closely at Embiid’s numbers, he shot 6.0 field goal attempts per game from distances of five feet or less from the rim. Peers like Clint Capela, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Andre Drummond were in the 8.0’s. 

How does Brown view bully ball?

“It translates into free throws more than anything, to me,” he said Sunday. “He gets paint catches, he gets close. It’s bully ball. It’s one dribble, two dribble, gather-step. It’s Shaquille O’Neal. He has the ability to do that.”

In his prime, though, the Big Aristotle averaged double-digit trips to the line. Embiid averaged 7.4 free throws per game last season.

“Part of his quandary at times is that he’s that good, and that capable all over the floor,” said Brown.

As a result, there's a line that has to be walked.

“When do you get into beast-mode bully ball, and when do you want to step out and [hit] a 3-point shot? There’s no book that tells you how to do that.”

Statistics and instincts can help create informed decisions in respect to when it makes the most sense for the Sixers to summon Embiid into bully ball duty.

“We have been with each other long enough now where you can go gut feel, you can go analytics,” Brown said. “I can tell you what part of the floor he’s most successful on, I can tell you what part of games he’s most likely to be double-teamed, I can tell you what part of the floor we want him to have outlets to punish double-teams.

“I think we have answers based on familiarity, and just the multiple years I’ve been with him.”

To truly be a master the lane, Embiid is well aware he needs to cut down on turnovers. That’s why he worked on ball-handling extensively during the summer.

Should Embiid successfully smooth out some of these areas, and incorporate some ramped up bully ball into his game along the way, he’ll likely have no problem fulfilling Brown’s expectations.

“I think he’s going to be dominant, I really think he’s going to be dominant,” Brown said Sunday. “There’s not one thing I’ve seen this summer or this gym behind me that suggests otherwise.”

Embiid Extras:

• Brett Brown said Sunday that at the moment, there are no limitations or parameters on Joel Embiid’s loading, and he doesn’t expect there to be in the immediate future.

“There’s no restrictions,” said Brown. “We expect him to play back-to-backs. I can play him as much as I want.”

• It appears as if Embiid’s psyche is benefiting from him having a clean bill of health.

“I have a different mindset. I don’t have to worry about anything, just about coming in, getting in better shape, learning how to play with each other. We’ve got some new guys. I’ve got to see where they want to be, and where they want the ball. And they also got to learn playing with me. It’s all about learning. In previous years, I didn’t get to do that. Came in and basically got thrown in and had to adjust.”

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