Philadelphia 76ers’ success hinges on Joel Embiid’s conditioning

Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers’ prosperity still rests in Joel Embiid’s hands.

Joel Embiid is a really good basketball player.

He can protect the rim, bang in the post, hit the occasional three and elevate the Philadelphia 76ers to the elite tier of the NBA. But there’s one huge weakness in Embiid’s near-perfect game: his conditioning.

It’s no secret that a clean slate of health has alluded Embiid for his entire career. He missed his first two professional seasons with a foot injury, played just 31 games in his rookie campaign due to a meniscus tear and broke part of his face in his second year, which sidelined him for about a month. Accordingly, the Sixers suffer when Embiid is off of the court. Last season, the Sixers were -3.5 with Embiid off the court per 100 possessions and +7.6 points better with him playing, according to

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Yet, even when Embiid isn’t 100 percent, he still has an incredible impact on the game. For example, he was +144 in the seven-game series versus the Raptors despite being healthy for all of one game.

Last season, Brett Brown and company managed Embiid’s playing time very poorly, especially in the beginning of the season, and the consequences of their mismanagement showed up in the playoffs.

Embiid missed one playoff game against the Nets and although he played all seven games against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he was obviously sick and injured for most of the series. With no reliable backup, Embiid was forced to play high minutes the whole series, including 46 minutes in a Game 7 defeat. His body just wasn’t ready for high minutes and intense playoff basketball, so he was playing at a level far lower than his potential. He simply didn’t have the energy or durability needed to play at his best.

In that Game 7, Embiid was +10 and his backup Greg Monroe, who played just over two minutes, was -9. Embiid is the driving force of this team, and the Sixers will only go as far as his conditioning takes them.

Thankfully, Elton Brand recognized the need for competent backups to Embiid, so he went out and signed Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn, two smart, defensive-minded big men who can keep the team from floundering when Embiid rests.

But even with these insurance policies, Embiid’s conditioning has to improve. He is far and away the most important player on the Sixers and one of the most impactful players in the entire league. Without Embiid playing at a high-level in the playoffs, both offensively and defensively, the Sixers won’t win a championship anytime soon.

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It’s up to Embiid to improve his health and up to the coaching staff to manage his playing time effectively.