Diagnosing the Sixers’ struggles: Joel Embiid


My father always had the same two sayings when watching the Sixers. He’d say “Basketball is a game of runs”, or “Remember, ebb and flow” (referring to the rhythmic back and forth nature of the game).

Far too often, we are witnessing the Sixers fall victim to the “ebbs” of basketball or being on the wrong end of a run. This happened recently against the Toronto Raptors. This game was by no means, easily controlled, but the Sixers did hold a five-point lead with four minutes to go. Allowing the Raptors to go on a 10-0 run, the Sixers fell 96-101.

A major storyline in this game was the play of Joel Embiid. He finished the game with an astonishing zero points. It was the first time in his professional and college career that he did not score a single point. The Raptors seem to have Embiid’s number but that is something that needs to change.

The Sixers as a unit have seen many issues from the inconsistent play of Joel Embiid, to the lack of growth from Ben Simmons, to the struggles of Tobias Harris’ fit in the offense. All of these contribute to the losses we have seen but in addition, questions have to be asked about the coaching. There have been questionable decisions managing game flow in the final minutes of these losses.

Why are these issues persisting? Who is to blame for the inexcusable losses? And finally, how does the organization go about fixing these issues?

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid is already the greatest Sixers since Allen Iverson. His ability is among even the greatest Centers in NBA history, though he has many games to play before he can be counted in their numbers. He has had two major issues since entering the league, namely injuries, conditioning and playing against his strengths.

Injury bug

Embiid has seen a broken navicular bone that saw a secondary setback, a torn meniscus, sore back, sore knees, and an orbital fracture. More than his fair share of injuries in his first five seasons.

Injuries have seemed to slow down at least for now, partly due to the increase in “load management”. Hopefully, Embiid will continue to be healthy and injury concerns become a thing of the past.

The other half of this coin is where the Sixers need to take responsibility as an organization. The Sixers’ medical staff has made mistake after mistake when it comes to the health of the players. They have misdiagnosed multiple players and have been very closed off about revealing injury information. The Sixers need to evaluate this department before injuries are caused/intensified by this department.

Conditioning, conditioning, conditioning

When on the court, the primary issue Embiid has run into is inconsistency. A major reason for this is a lack of conditioning. He will have many games where he looks like a top-five player but then he’ll have games where he’s clearly running on empty and is unable to make an impact.

Joel Embiid is a big BIG man, a strong fluid athlete unlike any before him. Obviously, as a big man, his caloric intake needs to be much higher than the average Joe. In spite of this, you need to make sure that you condition your body as much as possible to adjust for the extra weight. Embiid is already receiving games off for load management, but even still he has games where he is gassed.

Embiid apparently has cleaned up his diet by leaps and bounds over the summer, but his conditioning still has plenty of room for improvement.

Know your strengths

Far too often Embiid finds himself hanging around outside the three-point line. Though he is a capable three-point shooter, Embiid is also one of the most talented post players the NBA has seen in a long time. He has incredible strength that allows him to bully his way deep into the post.

There are very few Centers in today’s NBA who could stop Embiid when he’s in his flow in the post. The best way to stop him is the obvious double team but Embiid should welcome the opportunity to either draw a foul or kick out to an open shooter.

Can this improve?

Is it possible? Absolutely, this is almost entirely up to Embiid. The injuries already seem to be less often, it’s his conditioning and play style that could use improvement.

Embiid and the coaching staff need to not only realize conditioning is an issue, but actually address it. Putting extra hours, continuing to improve his diet, as a leader and as a star, this is what he needs to do.

On the court, by making a conscious decision to play in the post, Embiid would not only increase his field-goal percentage but he would also have an opportunity to increase both his assists and also his free-throw attempts. Shooters would be more open, opponents in foul trouble, there are too many benefits for this to not be the go-to option.

Hopefully, we will see Embiid, the coaching staff, and the Sixers organization make the necessary adjustments to lead the team to success.

Up next…

Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the concerns for the Sixers. The next issue is the lack of growth of the team’s other star Ben Simmons. This is definitely another huge concern but we’ll touch on that next time.

Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports