Joel Embiid had a sour taste from last season. His 76ers team was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. His statistics were down and he didn’t earn any postseason honors.
But his confidence didn’t wane.
Each time he has been asked during the preseason about individual honors, he says they are determined by winning. That said, Embiid also doesn’t back off from the high expectations as he enters his fifth NBA season and seventh year with the Sixers after missing his first two years with foot injuries.
“A player of my talent should always be in MVP conversations, defensive player of the year conversations, and All-NBA. It should be like that every single year,” he said Thursday after practice. “To be able to accomplish that you have to win. That is the main thing, winning cures everything and makes everybody happy.”
Listed at 7-foot and 280 pounds, Embiid felt this offseason was huge for him from a conditioning standpoint.
“This summer is the one that I’ve really tried to really focus on just having my own chef, nutritionist, my own PT and massage therapist, just doing whatever I can to take care of my body so I am able to play 20 years here in Philly,” he said. “So I think that is the thing I have learned the most since I have been in the league.”
Since the Sixers first reported for individual workouts, coach Doc Rivers and many players have raved about Embiid’s conditioning. Of course, Embiid has been praised before, only to wear down later in seasons. In his four playing seasons, he has missed 110 games, including 22 last year.
Embiid averaged 23 points and 11.5 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game in earning his third straight All-Star appearance last season. Still, he has talked before and alluded again that it was not an enjoyable season for him.
“We all saw last year, we really never got the chance to play together and actually get comfortable,” he said. “I feel like we never really learned how to play with each other, so I hope that this year is going to be different. ... Every year we have a lot of potential so it it on us to go out and compete, it starts defensively.”
On the defensive end, Embiid wasn’t happy with his performance last year. Embiid was a second-team All-Defense selection in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons but didn’t earn a spot last season.
“I got to get back to two, three years ago, when I used to be all over the place defensively and do my job and try to be up there when it comes to those awards and stuff,” he said.
Embiid has been encouraged by the new additions, such as Seth Curry and Danny Green, proven three-point shooters. One of the problems last season was the Sixers didn’t have consistent perimeter threats. Embiid had thrived with a dangerous three-point threat such as JJ Redick the previous two seasons.
“You can go back to two, three, four years ago when we kind of had that type of spacing and the court was open,” he said. “[It] helped all of us, everybody on the team, just by the court being open, we were able to just move the ball, the ball never stuck in someone’s hands and that is the way to play basketball.”
He likes what he has seen from Rivers’ new system. Rivers wants the Sixers to play faster and he will also employ more pick and rolls.
“I feel like we have done a great job with the system we have put in place,” Embiid said. “I think it is going to be great but hopefully as soon as possible.”