December 17, 2019
Joel Embiid walked over to talk to reporters on Tuesday drenched in sweat and slightly out of breath. A sign of a recovery from recent illness, being out of shape, or working hard?
Perhaps a combination of all three. Embiid was the last man remaining in the gym on Tuesday afternoon, going through his paces with his personal trainer, Drew Hanlen, getting some reps in the post before a big date with the Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler on Wednesday. The specifics of their session together will be music to the ears of a lot of Sixers fans.
"Just working on post moves. It's been lacking the past few games, just want to get back to it and try to be better, because I can do much better," Embiid said, explaining that coverages this season have dictated how he approaches each possession. "This year I've been facing up almost every single time, it's also because they double team me, so every time I catch the ball I try to see what the defense is going to do. If I don't have two feet in the paint, I always face up, but it's all about making quick moves."
During the brief time members of the media were at practice on Tuesday afternoon, they saw an assortment of different moves from Embiid. Drives to the basket, fadeaway jumpers out of post-ups, shots through contact, spin moves, you name it. Throughout the process, Hanlen was giving direct instruction to Embiid, trying to clean up some bad habits from his star pupil.
The No. 1 problem this year, Embiid believes, stems from his center of gravity.
"The main thing about being in the post is all about balance, and the whole season I felt like my balance has been off," Embiid said. "Got to stay low and be ready for anything. When you stay high, that's when you turn the ball over, and I can see every time I'm high or I'm not low, it happens all the time. It's all about balance and staying low, and being decisive."
The numbers suggest there hasn't been a huge difference in Embiid's ability to see out of double teams this year vs. last. If you normalize his numbers to account for the drop in minutes played this season, his assist and turnover numbers are basically identical to where they have been in years past.
That feels incorrect anecdotally, and I would opine his feel has been better than in years past. Outside of a few negative outliers, he has shown an affinity for making plays before pressure even gets to him, and though he isn't always the guy picking up the assist, he's making the right play for the team. Their last game against Miami, for example, was Embiid at his very best, feeling the extra attention the Heat wanted to send and weaponizing it.
"They've been double, triple-teaming all season long, so I got to get used to it. It's going to be like that in the postseason, so I got to keep working on that," Embiid said Tuesday. "Last year they were doubling off of Ben, most of this year they're doing the same, but they just come off of anybody, so you don't really know where it's coming from. You have to take your time and adjust and make the right plays."
The Sixers are no longer a young and fun upstart, they are one of the teams expected to compete for the Eastern Conference crown. The same could be said of Embiid, who is now the No. 1 name at the top of the scouting report for opposing teams every night. If you can make life difficult for Philadelphia's biggest star, you can go a long way toward stopping the Sixers.
Easier said than done, of course. As the league has gone smaller and sleeker, bigs who are built to stop Embiid have gone out of style. There are a few left who can do it, of course, but more often than not he's up against opponents like Miami's Bam Adebayo, an excellent young player having an All-Star caliber year who just so happens to be giving up several inches to Embiid. And that's Miami's best option to slow him down.
We will see if the Heat have a better answer for him this time around. Both the Sixers and Miami are coming off of regrettable losses, and with Butler Bowl 2 figuring to fire up the home crowd, it should be another fun one in South Philly on Wednesday night.
• The minor controversy with backup guard Trey Burke and his father has already basically come and gone, but two figures in the madness had a chance to speak up on Tuesday: Kyle O'Quinn, who liked an Instagram post sharing Burke's message, and Brett Brown, the coach in charge of doling out minutes. Here's what they had to say.
Brown: "No I don't [have a comment]."
Well, fair enough. The head coach doesn't want to go down that road. O'Quinn had a bit more to say.
I like pretty much everything on Instagram that's Sixer-related. That's why I follow those pages, I think they support us during the good times and bad times, so I kind of just, if you noticed that was a tweet posted on Instagram, so I just liked the post on Instagram. It's not like I went and retweeted it, commented, shared my thoughts...in your eyes social media is social media, to be honest I didn't even know that was his dad's Twitter handle, I've met him several times, he has always been Mr. Burke to me. Name like that, I didn't catch it, I just liked it because it was a fan sharing some insight on the game."
It had nothing to do with me, it was just a Philly post. A like is kind of like an acknowledgment, so if a guy goes down on another team and I like that post, am I cheering that on? I don't think so, I'm just acknowledging it. If I want to add a comment to say my thoughts, I will. But a like I think is a little harmless.
We're all entitled to our own opinions on this one, but I would liken this to Billy Madison's answer on the Industrial Revolution's impact on the modern novel.
• Josh Richardson told reporters his official health prognosis at the moment was, "doing aight," which is not exactly what you want to hear from a guy returning from a hamstring problem. But Richardson says it's another issue holding him back at the moment, with his shooting wrist sore as a result of the play in Boston where the NBA ruled he got away with an uncalled foul.
"My hamstring feels good but I hurt my wrist a little bit in Boston, so it's been kind of tough shooting and flicking my wrist. But hopefully, I'm getting better and recover from that," Richardson said. "The controversial play at the end of the game on the inbound, we both like flew, my whole body landed on my wrist."
• If you're looking for a reason Matisse Thybulle has succeeded as a rookie on a loaded team, look no further than his willingness to learn. Tobias Harris (along with a lot of the other veterans) have taken him under their wing as sort of their "little brother," and Harris thinks his mentality has been unique for a guy arriving to the NBA with credentials and clout.
"We take him under the wing as the little bro, and I think not many young players really allow that sometimes," Harris said Tuesday. "A lot of young players come in with expectations and not the willingness to learn as much as he has. I think That's what separates him, he wants to learn and wants to be a very great player, wants to help the team. And everybody fuels off of that and embraces that too."
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