Are Joel Embiid’s troubling turnovers being overblown

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Joel embiid
Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, left, makes his move to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Brooklyn Nets and Head Coach Jacque Vaughn have been adamant about not letting Joel Embiid dominate them in their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Embiid is regularly facing multiple defenders any time he has the ball inside of the 3-point arc.

That strategy hasn’t exactly been paying off for the Nets, although it’s understandable why they would believe sending their myriad of wing defenders at Embiid in droves would be their best possible route, considering the fact that the defensively-apt, but skinny Nic Claxton is the only real big in Brooklyn’s playoff rotation.

Joel Embiid’s playoff story so far

Through two games, Embiid has averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists per game, on 50/20/100 shooting splits. While those numbers are notably underwhelming when stacked up against his regular season averages, the MVP frontrunner has absolutely dominated the series with his presence and impact outside of the usual counting stats.

In Game 2, he was limited as a scorer with the Nets swarming him on every touch, but he still managed 20 points on just 11 shots. The efficiency was certainly impressive, however, what he did outside of scoring was even more important to the Sixers in their 12-point victory. Along with his 20 points, Embiid also tallied 19 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks (an underestimation by Embiid’s count), and a steal, finishing a +14 in his 37 minutes.

By all accounts, Joel Embiid has lived up to expectations following a historic regular season run, as he and the Sixers have taken care of business at home and are halfway to a first-round sweep. And yet, a brief scroll through the NBA Twitter comment sections will quickly show that his Game 2 wasn’t without its blemishes. Every seasoned troll or Embiid hater wasted no time in pointing out the fact that he also ended the night with eight turnovers.

While eight turnovers certainly shouldn’t be ignored, box score watchers have unfairly tagged Embiid with having a poor game without the context in which those turnovers came. With that in mind, let’s paint the full picture for the history books.

A full timeline of all of Embiid’s 8 turnovers in Game 2

Turnover 1

His first turnover came a little under four minutes into the game. Joel Embiid initiates the Philadelphia 76ers possession by posting up Nic Claxton 30 feet away from the hoop at the top of the key. Embiid easily moves his primary defender towards the free-throw line, but with his back turned to Cam Johnson, he misses the second Net rotating off of Tobias Harris for the trap.

At the last second, Joel Embiid puts his shoulder down and barrels over Claxton who definitely sold the contact a bit. No whistle is blown, and Embiid loses the ball, as he tumbles over with Claxton, and Dorian Finney-Smith comes up with the rock.

Turnover 2

With about seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Sixers have eight seconds left on the shot clock, as Tyrese Maxey is sizing up Royce O’Neal while Embiid has sealed off his mismatch in Spencer Dinwiddie and is calling for a post-up just off of the left block. Maxey floats up a terrible entry pass that is easily tipped away by O’Neal leading to a scramble for the ball.

Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots between Oklahoma City Thunder center Mike Muscala, left, and guard Luguentz Dort, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Eventually, Maxey regains possession with just three seconds left on the shot clock while he’s dribbling 35 feet away from the hoop. He drives in before getting stripped by Mikal Bridges. The ball is fumbled around on the floor for a bit as the shot clock runs out. Embiid is then credited with a kick-ball turnover, because he defeatedly flips the rock up with his foot right before the buzzer sounds off.

Turnover 3

Joel Embiid posts up on Royce O’Neal just above the right side of the stripe. He picks up his dribble and faces up against his defender to look for either a backdoor action with De’Anthony Melton or a pull-up middy. O’Neal’s quick hands, though, allow him to strip the ball from Embiid on his face-up motion.

Turnover 4

Joel Embiid backs down Royce O’Neal after getting a low entry pass from James Harden. He drives down the right side of the lane before spinning back towards his left. By that time, he’s crowded by both his primary defender in O’Neal and a double team from Harden’s original defender in Mikal Bridges. Embiid loses the ball on the tail-end of his spin.

Turnover 5

Embiid faces up against Nic Claxton at the top of the key with the shot clock dwindling down under five seconds. After a couple of jab steps, he drives left past Claxton and draws a double from the strongside corner from Cam Johnson. Embiid then tries to wrap a pass around to De’Anthony Melton who’s open in the corner but misfires, sailing the ball into the stands.

Turnover 6

Embiid drives left against Nic Claxton, pushing him towards the rim before trying to simultaneously initiating both a spin move and tiny hop step. He ends up scoring, but the bucket is nullified, as a whistle is blown for a travel. It’s definitely the right call, but players have certainly gotten away with worse in the NBA. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Turnover 7

The Sixers are up 14 points with less than 15 seconds left in the game. Tobias Harris gets pressured by Mikal Bridges and passes it to Joel Embiid who’s eventually stripped by Royce O’Neal, although he would have added a turnover to his box score anyway had the shot clock expired with the ball in his hands.

Turnover 8

Embiid is dribbling the clock out against a soft double team with the Sixers up 12. Cam Johnson strips him out of spite with one second left in the game.

Joel Embiid had five real turnovers in Game 2

Removing the turnovers that weren’t his fault or had no real impact on the outcome of the game, Joel Embiid basically had five meaningful turnovers. That’s still nothing to scoff at, but it’s certainly a better number than the eight he was credited with.

Sixers C Joel Embiid
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 05: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) looks toward the net during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 05, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Something else of note is the fact that not a single one of his turnovers came from being double-teamed in the post. Why is this relevant? Because his detractors still slander him with the misconception that he can’t handle getting trapped with his back to the basket or make smart passes with two defenders on him.

All in all, Joel Embiid had a dominant Game 2 despite his relatively low scoring numbers and his five real turnovers. He should only continue his vice grip on the Brooklyn Nets, as the Philadelphia 76ers look to complete the first first-round sweep of Embiid’s career.