How should opponents defend Joel Embiid’s 3-point shot?

(Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid has shown he can shoot, so how should opposing teams defend him?

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is shooting 31 percent on 3.1 three-point attempts per game in 2017-18. Despite his inefficient results, the volume at which Embiid has taken threes during his short career suggests that he poses a threat from that distance.

Embiid’s offensive versatility has caused opposing defenses to roll out every strategy in their collective arsenal to try to contain him. Coaches know that taking away every part of Embiid’s skill set is an impossible task, so they structure gameplans around forcing him into uncomfortable situations. Luke Walton, if you are reading this, playing one-on-one in the post against Julius Randle is about as uncomfortable for Joel Embiid as taking a three hour nap in silk pajamas.

I decided to consult statistics to figure out how different defensive strategies affect Embiid’s three-point percentage. Using video from, I was able to watch video of 83 of Embiid’s 113 three-point attempts this season.

More from Sixers News

Embiid frequently uses the threat of his three point shot to set up his pump fake, get his defender in the air, and drive. Despite the frequency at which Embiid shot fakes, defenders chose to jump while contesting Embiid 31 out of 83 times. Embiid connected on just five of those 31 attempts (16 percent). Opposing teams also chose not to contest Embiid on 29 plays, 12 of which he scored on (41 percent). Finally, opponents contested Embiid without leaving their feet on 23 attempts. He made five (21 percent).

Whether the defender jumped or stayed on his feet did not have a significant impact on Embiid’s three-point percentage. If jumping at Embiid has little to no effect on his efficiency, contesting with a hand up and two feet on the ground is the favorable strategy. Leaving your feet takes you out of rebounding position, puts you at risk of fouling the shooter, and forces your team into a five-on-four scramble situation if Embiid pump fakes and puts the ball on the floor.

Clearly, 83 attempts is not a large enough sample size to make any sweeping conclusions. Even so, Embiid did not begin to frequently shoot threes in games until last season. Due to his injuries. Embiid likely does not have the same muscle memory to draw from as most NBA players.

He has also struggled with fatigue this season. It makes sense that Embiid would shoot with higher efficiency when he has more time to grip the ball, generate force from his legs, and focus on making a clean follow through.

To confirm the data I gathered from, I went to’s advanced stats page.

Rather than measure the type of contest like I did, tracks how close Embiid’s defenders are to him as he releases the ball. For his career, Embiid has shot 60-167 (36 percent) on threes when his defender has been six or more feet away from him. classifies that as “wide open.” When he has been “open,” or four to six feet away from his defender, he has converted on eight of 27 attempts (29 percent). Finally, Embiid is 2-7 when defenders are within two to four feet of him.

That may seem like a low amount of “tight” and “open” attempts, but guarding Embiid closely on the catch does not make much sense. NBA athletes can close out short to take away his drive, then fly at him from several feet away to contest his slightly slow release if he begins his shooting motion.

So, the most effective way to defend Joel Embiid on the perimeter is to stay on the ground and give a late contest, right? Not necessarily. That is the best way to lower his three-point percentage, but NBA defense is much more complicated than that.

On Dec. 28, the Portland Trail Blazers sagged off of Embiid when starting center Jusuf Nurkic was in the game, essentially begging him to launch from the outside. Embiid responded by shooting 6-12 from behind the arc. However, Embiid shot just 3-9 from two-point range, and the Blazers rallied in the fourth quarter to steal the victory.

Portland coach Terry Stotts likely concluded that forcing Embiid to take outside shots would limit his post-ups, where he is an effective scorer and an improving passer out of double teams. Nurkic’s hulking frame put him on somewhat of a level playing field with Embiid down low, and Stotts eliminated Embiid’s mobility advantage by keeping Nurkic close to the basket.

Next: Who is Ben Simmons really?

Surely, Stotts knew that Embiid shoots a much higher percentage on wide open threes than even semi-contested ones. He also probably looked at his personnel and saw that Nurkic would struggle to chase Embiid around the perimeter and anyone else would get buried in the post. Using statistics in the context of his team, he crafted a gameplan that helped the Blazers win the game.