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Joel Embiid says his new role after 76ers’ trade for Jimmy Butler is upsetting his game

The All-Star denies being tired, saying his struggles are about his new role following the trade for Jimmy Butler.

Sixers center Joel Embiid (right) drives to the basket against Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant on Friday, November 30, 2018 in Philadelphia.
Sixers center Joel Embiid (right) drives to the basket against Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant on Friday, November 30, 2018 in Philadelphia.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

DETROIT – No, Joel Embiid said on Friday night, he is not tired. Yes, he is frustrated.

That’s because, the 76ers star center said, he is not being used right.

“I haven’t been myself lately,” said Embiid, who was held out of Friday’s game against the Pistons by coach Brett Brown. “I think it’s mainly because of the way I’ve been used, which is I’m being used as a spacer, I guess, a stretch five, which I’m only shooting [29] percent" from three-point range.

“But it seems like the past couple games, like with the way I play, our setup, [Brown] always has me starting on the perimeter … and it just really frustrates me. My body feels great, and it’s just I haven’t been playing well.”

Brown said he held Embiid out of Friday’s game so he could get some rest. Heading into Friday’s games, Embiid’s 892 minutes this season were the fourth-most in the NBA, behind New Orleans point guard Jrue Holiday (946), Golden State small forward Kevin Durant (929) and Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson (892).

It didn’t help Embiid’s mood on Friday that his father, Thomas Embiid, is visiting America and was at the arena for the game.

It’s true that Embiid had one of his worst shooting performances of the season Wednesday night. He made just 5-of-17 shots (29.4 percent) en route to finishing with 10 points. He had 12 rebounds, five assists, four turnovers and two blocks, but looked sluggish on the defensive end. He was a step slow, was moved off his spot several times and had a hard time keeping Raptors reserve center Jonas Valanciunas in front of him.

Embiid, who is averaging a career-high 34.3 minutes this season, has looked especially out of sorts on the offensive end lately. He shot a combined 14-for-42 in the Sixers' last three games.

It seems that Embiid hasn’t fully adjusted to playing with four-time all-star swingman Jimmy Butler, who, like Embiid, thrives on attacking the basket. Embiid is shooting 43.1 percent (88-for-204) and averaging 23.8 points per game in his 11 games since Butler was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade. Embiid shot 48 percent (134-for-279) and averaged 28.2 points per game in 15 games before the trade.

At the start of the season, the Sixers wanted Embiid to incorporate more of what they call “Bully Ball,” getting the ball in the paint and attacking the rim, into his game. That led to more free-throw attempts for him.

“We sometimes have to space the floor,” Embiid said Friday. “A lot of time, actually, with the way our plays are set up, I tend to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. So it’s an adjustment.”

Brown agreed that the Sixers need to do a better job of spacing. However, he said he does not see it as a reflection of adding Butler to the mix.

“I don’t want to connect those dots,” Brown said Friday night. “But I think in general we all have to do better at creating space for Joel.”

The coach noted that it’s clear that opponents swarm Embiid after he puts the ball on the floor in the paint. He said the team is still working on how to react to that pressure.

“I do not see the connection of Jimmy having much to do with spacing,” Brown said. “In fact, I think it completely enhances the possibility to have better spacing.”

Embiid said he and Butler are still learning how to play better together. but he’s concerned about his recent contributions and wants to help the team succeed.

“Since the trade, it’s been really down,” he said of his success ratio. “I tend to get triple-teamed a lot. I was in the flow of the offense. I feel like I’m not any more. There’s not a lot of possessions on the block. I don’t know. We got to figure it out.”

Embiid stressed that he’s not upset with the trade. He’s just upset with his performance.