Philadelphia 76ers: Revamped roster helping Joel Embiid reach new heights

Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Joel Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career, in large part because the Philadelphia 76ers are built to accentuate his skill set.

For the first time in too long, the Philadelphia 76ers are built around Joel Embiid. Daryl Morey needed little more than 24 hours this offseason to completely reshape the roster, adding the likes of Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard. The Sixers are finally built to accentuate Embiid’s skill set, rather than survive the absence of it.

Embiid is thus playing the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging 23.2 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 32 minutes per game. His 52.3 field goal percentage would mark a career-high, while his 63.3 true shooting percentage means Embiid is playing not only his most productive basketball, but his most efficient basketball.

From last season to this season, Embiid’s usage has dropped. He is doing more with less. He is impacting the game at an MVP level without needing to — as I’ve worded it in the past — wrestle a bear or climb a mountain to score every possession. The new personnel around him has made life easier for Embiid.

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He is the centerpiece of a more spacious, more egalitarian offense than ever before. The ball swings crisply from side to side. Ben Simmons is as pass-happy as ever, but has also been more willing to do the little things off-ball to occupy defenders and free up Embiid. The big fella even complemented his co-star in a detailed statement to the media on Monday.

Embiid has more space, which means more opportunities to bully defenders in isolation. It also means much cleaner double-team reads, which has resulted in some of Embiid’s best passing displays to date. He has “rekindled” his love of passing, trusting his teammates to make shots and, therefore, firing quick passes which often end in hockey assists, if not assists.

With shooters who demand attention from the defense, the opposition has had a much harder time keying in on Embiid’s tendencies in the post. Plus, on possessions where Embiid has historically relied on tough shot-making and tunnel vision, he is instead making smart, well-timed passes. This is a different, more controlled, and overall better version of Embiid than we saw in 2019-20. He looks the part of a superstar who can lead his team to postseason success.

That said, Embiid has long been good enough to thrive in the postseason. Had he been surrounded by better talent, his performance agains the Celtics in the Bubble who have received more acclaim. The Sixers have simply failed too often in the past to put the right pieces around Embiid. Morey, while maybe not having a final product on his hands, has taken definitive steps in the right direction.

It is too early for grand proclamations. We are only seven games into the season. Even so, it’s clear this team is engineered for success. Embiid looks more content than last season, while his new teammates — most prominently Seth Curry and Danny Green — have already established good chemistry on the floor. Green has eons of experience playing through the post, most notably alongside Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis. He can help Embiid, and he can help teammates help Embiid.

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There’s a long way to go before we can claim the Sixers as “contenders” — a team with more than a puncher’s chance at championship glory. That said, a big part of any title run will involve Embiid unlocking his full potential. He is well on his way, in large part because of his new teammates.