BOSTON — What did Joel Embiid have to say about the criticism that Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal offered about his level of play?
The 76ers center accepted the criticism ... and agreed with it.
The critiques came after Embiid had 22 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night during a 97-92 victory over the Denver Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center. The game was televised by TNT, where Hall of Famers Barkley and O’Neal are pregame and postgame analysts.
Barkley, a Sixers legend, said Embiid’s performance didn’t qualify as “great.” O’Neal said that Embiid could be great, but that he’s not playing hard enough.
“I mean, that’s what they do. Maybe they’re right,” Embiid said Thursday after the shootaround at TD Garden. “I do think they’re right. I need to be more aggressive, just look to impose myself, just look to dominate.
“I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the way it’s affected my efficiency and my stats, so I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. But I get what they’re saying and I think they’re right. I’ve got to make a change.”
The two-time All-Star took averages of 22 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.4 blocks into Thursday night’s game against the Celtics. He was shooting a career-low 45.8% overall and 30.0% on three-pointers.
Last season, Embiid averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, and career bests in assists (3.7) and blocks (1.9). He shot a career-best 48.4% overall, 30% on three-pointers.
This season, Embiid has focused on maintaining his health and has had to adjust to playing alongside newcomers Al Horford and Josh Richardson in the starting lineup.
Embiid was hampered by tendinitis in his left knee late last season. He missed 14 of the final 24 regular-season games, plus Game 3 of the Sixers’ opening-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. The season before that, he missed time late in that campaign with a broken bone in his face. As a result, he played injured in the last two postseasons.
“This year, I told myself I want to get there healthy,” he said.
The spacing this season has been horrible for the Sixers since they lost sharpshooter JJ Redick in free agency, despite having the NBA‘s biggest starting lineup.
“The way I’m being guarded this year, every time I touch the ball, heavy double-, triple-team,” Embiid said. “So I’m just trying to navigate through it and just be a basketball player, make the right plays.
“If I get double-teamed, my teammates know that I’m going to pass it, so it’s about balancing between trying to make something happen for your team and making the right play.”
The Sixers reassigned Zhaire Smith to their G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats. The laceration on his right leg is healing, so the second-year player is ramping up his on-court activity. He’s expected to return to action in Saturday’s Blue Coats game against the Raptors 905 in Ontario.
Smith has yet to play for the Sixers this season. However, he’s averaging 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists through seven games for the Blue Coats.