Despite the success in his lone year at Kansas, there were many question marks surrounding Joel Embiid when the Sixers first drafted him. The 20-year-old Cameroon native had begun playing basketball just five years earlier, was questioned for his commitment to basketball, and faced a navicular fracture that had crippled the career of NBA players such as Yao Ming.
After observing the meteoric rise that Embiid’s career has taken, it is interesting to reflect on these previous concerns. However, Joel Embiid did not grow into the superstar he currently is by an accident. The 7-footer has dedicated himself to his craft in a way that many are not capable of.
Who is Drew Hanlen?
After his time as a point guard at Belmont University, Drew Hanlen turned his love for basketball into a career and is regarded as one of the top NBA skills coaches in the world.
Hanlen is the CEO of Pure Sweat Basketball and is known for his ability to customize and build workouts specifically catered to each individual player. Drew is truly one of the best basketball minds in the business working with a wide range of players from kids all the way to true NBA superstars.
Hanlen puts a focus on game skills in his training, making drills as game-like as possible. He has proven success and has helped superstars such as Bradley Beal, Jayson Tatum, Zach LaVine, Jordan Clarkson, and many more.
Joel Embiid’s Relationship with Drew
It first became public that Drew Hanlen had taken Joel Embiid under his wing in the offseason following the 2018 playoffs. This was following Joel Embiid’s second year in the NBA where he had already established himself as one of the league’s future stars.
The previous season was ended in the conference semifinals as the Celtics ended the Sixers series in 5 games. Despite Joel averaging 23 points per game in the series, Al Horford showed some success in matching up with him. The supporting cast led by Dario Saric, JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, and Robert Covington was proven not to be enough, and Ben Simmons was famously held to 1 point in the Game 2 loss to the Celtics.
Having been named to his first all-star game and seeming to grasp his full potential, there was also a shift in Joel Embiid. While the fun-loving, bubbly, personality remained the same, Embiid fully committed himself to basketball. The stories of him shoveling down fast-food and dancing at Meek Mill concerts began to stop as proof of the growth in maturity.
Drew Hanlen saw the massive potential that Joel harnessed right away. As a sign of his commitment to working with the MVP candidate, Hanlen even flew 17 hours to Cameroon to train Embiid.
The strides that Hanlen has helped Joel Embiid to take have been massive. Through a series of game skills and game results skills, Hanlen put in place a long-term plan that he believed would help Joel to maximize his skill set. Now almost 4 years later, the Sixers are seeing the massive results the plan has produced.
Bully in the Post
The first order of business was to establish Joel Embiid’s post-game. Despite proficiency being a dying art in today’s NBA, Embiid’s rare combination of size and footwork makes him nearly impossible to guard in this area.
So far this season Joel Embiid ranks first in the league in post-up possessions per game. He averages 9.2 possessions per game in this area with Nikola Jokic coming in second in the league in this statistic with just 6 post-up possessions per game.
Embiid has recorded a score frequency of 54.2% on these touches. Perhaps even more noteworthy is his free-throw frequency of 24.9% on these same touches. Hanlen has also helped to develop a series of face-up moves to further maximize Embiid’s efficiency at getting to the basket.
Passing out of the Double
Due to his proficiency in the post, the Kansas-product now demands a double-team just about every time he touches the ball.
As Hanlen put it himself, “We just worked on attacking double-teams, we know that no one can guard him in an isolation situation, so now it’s just about reading defenses, being able to play at different paces, being able to protect the ball to limit turnovers. He did a good job of cracking down on his turnovers last year, but still had too many for our liking.“
This was after Embiid and Hanlen had spent their first offseason together and the focus moved to the big man’s distribution. In his rookie season, Joel Embiid posted a career-high 3.8 turnovers in 25.4 minutes per game. While his numbers have snuck up since the start of the season, Embiid is averaging 3.2 turnovers per game this season in 33 minutes per game. The numbers do not directly show how much growth Embiid has had in this area as his passing reads and decision-making has been far better than when he first came into the league.
While his post play may seem like a blast from the past, Embiid has certainly evolved with the times. He has come a long way from when his shooting routine involved looking up “White Guys Shooting Jumpers,” on YouTube as Joel counts uses his reliable jump shot on a regular basis.
Embiid has also taken major leaps throughout the career in his shooting ability. During his time in college, Embiid rarely stepped from outside the paint and averaged just 11.2 points per game. He flashed his post ability and impressive footwork but lacked his touch and any polish in his offensive game.
So far this season Joel Embiid is 2nd in the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.2 points per game. He is currently on pace to join Steph Curry in the 2015-16 season as the only player to average 30 points on 50% shooting and 40% on 3-pointers. This is as impressive of a company as it gets for shooting statistics and speaks volumes to the development Joel Embiid has gone through.
It is rare to get a peek at the work of professional athletes behind the curtains. People often take for granted the countless hours of work that go on behind the scenes and Joel Embiid and Drew Hanlen both clearly have made the most of it.
Leading the Sixers to a first-place star in the first half of the season and placing himself firmly in the MVP conversation, the Sixers have so much to be thankful about regarding Joel Embiid. But some appreciation should also be shared for the man who has helped to push him this far.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire