BOSTON — The 76ers are blessed to have a center like Joel Embiid.
Not only is he a towering presence with nimble feet, the 7-foot-2, 280-pounder generates plenty of free-throw attempts and hits them at a high clip.
His frequent trips and efficiency at the free-throw line isn’t traditionally the norm for an NBA center. Yet, Embiid leads the league with 11.85 free-throw attempts per game, and shoots 84.9% from the foul line.
“It’s one of the things when I took the job, I thought it was really important that Joel got to the line more and Ben [Simmons] got to the line more,” said Doc Rivers, who was hired to coach the Sixers (35-16) in October. “Not only does Joel make his free throws, but it also sets up our defense when they get to the line.
“So you get two things out of that.”
In Tuesday’s 106-96 road victory over the Boston Celtics, for example, it also gets the opposing team in foul trouble. Celtics center Robert Williams III couldn’t stay on the floor and eventually fouled out in only 13 minutes, 56 seconds.
Boston (25-26) was forced to pair three other centers in Luke Kornet, Mo Wagner, and Tacko Fall and power forward Semi Ojeleye against Embiid.
“He’s got to get better with his hands, as far as keeping his hands straight up and those types of things,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Williams. “But you see, Embiid’s got all the tricks, and he takes advantage of every little bump. And so he did that to everyone on our team not, just Rob.”
Embiid attempted more free throws than the Celtics combined, hitting 16 of 20 compared to Boston’s 16 of 18. This came after Embiid made 12 of 17 foul shots on Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves in his first game back from a left knee bruise. The four-time All-Star was disappointed with both of those efforts, saying that he missed too many.
“At some point of my career, I want to become a 90% free-throw shooter and just knock them down every single time I get to it,” Embiid said, “because I go there so many times, and that’s what makes you unguardable.
“When you can get to your spot, either score or get fouled.”
Embiid realizes that opposing teams sometimes want to get players to the free-throw line. But he knows it’s different with him, because he will knock them down and foul players out.
But opponents have a tough time preventing that.
That’s because Embiid has perfected his rip-through move. The move begins when he faces a defender. Once they try to reach in, he swings through their arms to draw contact, and a foul. It’s not uncommon for defenders to protest the call, saying they didn’t touch Embiid or that he initiated the contact.
“Getting to the free-throw line is a skill,” Embiid said. “A lot of people call it flopping. It’s just, you know, I’m physical. I’m going to create contact. Guys are going to react. They’re going to put their hands up there.
“If I catch them slipping, I’m gonna get to the free-throw line.”
He adds that the move is harder than people think and that not everyone can do it.
“You got to have a high basketball IQ,” Embiid said, “to be able to throw it up.”
NOTE: ESPN moved the time up from Sixers’ contest against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday at American Airlines Center to 7:30 p.m. from 8:30 p.m.