It’s only two weeks and seven games into a 72-game NBA season, but a lot has gone right for the 76ers during their 6-1 start. And one of the biggest factors is how well Joel Embiid has continued to play on both ends of the court.
Embiid, who missed the Sixers’ only loss, to Cleveland because of back tightness, has benefited the most from coach Doc Rivers’ offense, which provides much more spacing. The three-time All-Star center has also been more adept at dealing with double teams, often passing to an open shooter.
This season, Embiid and fellow All-Star Ben Simmons have been dynamic together on the court.
After a 118-101 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday, Embiid talked about the space that Simmons is helping to create, not only for him but also for his teammates.
“He’s done a great job, especially when he is cutting, taking two men with him, and then he just makes it easier for all the shooters that get wide open and knock down shots,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to keep working on it and trying to get better.”
He says that the Sixers have fed off Simmons’ work on both ends of the floor.
“He has been great, just getting the offense going, moving the ball and then especially defensively, doing what he does.”
Embiid, who is averaging 23.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, is also a big part of the defense. According to NBA.com stats, the Sixers entered Tuesday leading the league in defensive rating (99.4). They were the only team under 100. Defensive rating is points allowed per 100 possessions.
In addition, the Sixers were fifth in the NBA in allowing the fewest points in the paint (40.3 per game), and Embiid and backup center Dwight Howard are a big reason for that. In Monday’s win, the Sixers outscored the Hornets, 64-38, in points in the paint. Granted, the Hornets were without injured center Cody Zeller, but that showed the inside dominance.
“Give them credit. They are a big, physical team inside. They are one of those teams on the interior that has given us trouble the last couple of years,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of the Sixers
Embiid will always commit turnovers because of how much he handles the ball, but his turnover rate so far is the lowest in his career. He is averaging 3.7 turnovers per 100 possessions. Last season, he averaged 5.1.
While it’s easy to get bogged down with statistics, especially early in the season, the one that really shows Embiid’s value is win shares per 48 minutes, which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes. (The league average is approximately .100.) Embiid leads the NBA in this category (.293), according to basketball-reference.com.
Rivers is finding out that he can use Embiid in a variety of ways.
“The main thing we have is Joel,” Rivers said. “Joel sets the table for us.”
Rivers then gave an example from Monday’s game, when Embiid scored nine points late in the second quarter as the Sixers completed a 27-7 run.
“I thought in the second quarter against the zone, we just posted Joel every single time down the floor and that led to shots for us, and that is what we want,” Rivers said.