Joel Embiid’s Development is Making This Year’s 76ers « Different »

It’s obvious that the Brooklyn Nets’ main goal in developing their game plan for their first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers was to prevent Joel Embiid from scoring.

Nets focused on stopping Embiid’s scoring.

Embiid has been choked by Nets defenders in Games 1, 2, and 3. Before he gets the ball, when he crosses halfcourt and the second he makes an offensive move, Brooklyn is bringing double and triple teams. Jacque Vaughn’s strategy is obviously to make the opposition shoot and beat them.

In past years, that was a key part of a successful game plan to beat Philadelphia, especially in the playoffs. Embiid would often take bad shots or turn the ball over when he was doubled.

But the big man has addressed the biggest weaknesses in his game each and every season, to the point where he can handle anything thrown at him on a basketball court.

The 76ers haven’t made the conference finals in Embiid’s career; but because of his development all over the floor, which is shining already just three games into the playoffs, this year’s 76ers have the best chance in a while to make a deep postseason run.

Here is a look at the improvements Embiid has made to become a more mature, well-rounded player for the 76ers.

Improved Playmaker

Through the first six seasons of his career, Embiid never averaged at least four assists. He has now produced four in back-to-back seasons.Each game had two assists.

His dominance as a scorer naturally has led him to find open teammates more often. Defenses frequently press Embiid, allowing him to kick out for open threes or find a cutter beneath the hoop, as the Nets did in this semifinal series.

Embiid is the centerpiece of the 76ers. His impact is where everything on both ends of the floor begins. His basketball IQ has made him a good playmaker as a center the past two years, and when teams like Brooklyn sabatoge him with doubles and triples, he understands where the open guys are.

His ability to run the court in transition is another underappreciated part of Embiid’s development as a playmaker. When a 7’2, 280 lb center is sprinting down the court with some handles, he’s hard enough to stop from scoring. He is unstoppable while doing this and finding teammates in transition.

In Game 2 against the Nets, Embiid had seven assists. As the 76ers look to move on and continue a deep run, he will have to continue to manage more than one defender and pass the ball to open teammates at the right times.

Increased Effort on Glass, Defensive End

It isn’t just passing that Embiid has improved. When the playoffs start, he makes it clear that he doesn’t care about how many points he scores; he wants to impact the game in any way that will secure a win.

In the first three games of the series, that’s meant rebounding and defending. Embiid had 19 rebounds in Game 2 and 10 in Game 3, while reaching at least two blocks in all three playoff games.

At the end of the day, rebounding and defending are usually about effort. Embiid has always been naturally strong and large, allowing him to excel in both arenas.

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But what’s so different about Embiid this season, especially in games that matter, is that he knows when to up the intensity. He steps up to protect the rim and crash the glass in crucial regular season games as well as thus far in the playoffs this year.

His basketball IQ aids him in knowing when to exert the most effort. For instance, he blocked Spencer Dinwiddie late in the game on Thursday, saving the game.

Instead of only focused on scoring, Embiid has helped the 76ers become title contenders by playing physically and aggressively in the paint and on defense.

Drawing Contact + Learning How to Score Against Doubles

Throughout this series, Embiid has displayed tremendous rebounding, defense, and passing skills. But everyone knows he’s perhaps the game’s best scorer after notching his second-straight scoring title this year.

As he draws more than one defender, the big man has learned how to still be an efficient scorer. Getting good positioning in the post, not holding onto the ball too long and making quick, physical movements have allowed Embiid to still put the ball in the basket when he’s matched up against more than one player.

Again, the Nets have been absolutely suffocating Embiid with defenders so far. He has nevertheless recorded 20 or more points in two of the three games.

Embiid will never be able to average his usual 30+ points when being defended like he has in this series. Taking less shots and focusing on efficiency within the offense is his best bet, rather than forcing tough shots.

Once again, his basketball IQ shines bright. He knows how to get to the line, especially when he has more than one player to draw a foul on, and his raw strength allows him to bully more than one player.

Embiid can certainly score against double and triple teams; added in with his all-around impact in these playoffs, and he’s the most complete player he’s ever been.

76ers’ Roster Construction is Perfect for Embiid’s Success

News flash: basketball is still a team game. Embiid can make a great pass to an open teammate, and they can miss the shot.

But the roster construction around Embiid is arguably the best its ever been. He needs maximum spacing, and almost everybody on the team is a capable three-point shooter.

What’s worked so well in this Nets series is the fact that he can draw some defenders then find an open shooter. Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, PJ Tucker and James Harden, among others on the bench, get open looks because Brooklyn is throwing two or three guys on Embiid.

Defensively, all Embiid has to worry about is protecting the rim. Guys like Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and Jalen McDaniels can protect the perimeter, freeing up Embiid to concentrate on his area of expertise: shot blocking.

Overall, Embiid’s career-best supporting cast has been assembled by the 76ers. In the rest of the series against the Nets and the rest of the playoffs, the likely-soon-to-be-MVP big man’s all-around development could push Philadelphia to a championship run.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images

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