Joel Embiid will be expected to do more on defense for the Sixers without Ben Simmons
Simmons, a perennial All-Defensive performer and defensive player of the year runner-up, will leave big shoes to fill on that side of the ball.
Joel Embiid must do more.
The 76ers center knows it, and so do coach Doc Rivers and his teammates. That includes the 2021 MVP runner-up providing even more of a defensive presence now that Ben Simmons no longer intends to play in Philly.
“Defensively, [Embiid] being a basket protector is key for us,” Rivers said. “How many times does he have to focus on his guy in this NBA? So his team defense and his voice is vital for us. That’s where we want him to take the next step.”
That’s not to say that Embiid doesn’t already provide a defensive presence.
The 7-foot-2 center averaged 1.4 blocks and a career-best 1.0 steal per game en route to being named second-team All-Defensive selection last season. It was the third time in four seasons the Sixers defensive anchor was named to the squad.
It’s just that he’s going to have to do more to make up for the absence of Simmons, the 2021 runner-up for defensive player of the year. The point guard was a first-team All-Defensive selection in each of the past two seasons.
If he makes it this season, it would most likely be for another team. Simmons has been a no-show for training camp and is demanding to be traded.
But Simmons’ stellar play was perhaps the biggest reason the Sixers had the NBA’s second-best defensive rating (107.0), surrendering the fourth-lowest field-goal percentage (.450) and allowing the eighth-fewest points (108.7) this past season.
Third-year guard Matisse Thybulle will also be a big key on defense. The second-team All-Defensive selection will do it from a reserve role, though. So that leaves Embiid and Danny Green as the primary defensive presences in the starting lineup.
“As I mentioned in the past, I have aspirations to become the Defensive Player of the Year,” Embiid said. “For me, personally, I just got to be more active. It’s hard to do because, offensively, I’m also asked to do a lot. And I don’t mind.
“I love carrying the team on both ends. And I think that’s what probably makes me special.”
Embiid is coming off his best offensive campaign, averaging career highs in points (28.5), field-goal percentage (.513), three-point percentage (.377) and free-throw percentage (.859).
While he knows what he brings on offense, Embiid is equally confident in his defensive prowess regardless of which teammates stand by his side.
“I’ve always believed that, and you can look at the advanced numbers and defensive metrics and all that stuff, it doesn’t matter who’s on the floor with me,” he said. “I’ve always been able to be the anchor of the defense.”