Sixers: What’s up with Joel Embiid right now?

Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

How long has it been since Joel Embiid was this bad two nights in a row? Faced with two elite defenses to start the regular season, the reigning two-time MVP runner-up has been far removed from his typical standards of production. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 13.5 rebounds on 38.5 percent shooting (22.2 percent from deep). He’s averaging 5.0 assists but also 5.0 turnovers. What’s going on?

Embiid refused to talk to reporters after Thursday’s loss to Milwaukee, so fans were neglected an answer straight from the source. Doc Rivers, however, did provide a potential explanation for Embiid’s atypically uninspired play: injury.

According to Rivers, Embiid dealt with plantar fasciitis over the summer, which impacted his conditioning coming into the season. This isn’t the first time Embiid has struggled out of the gates. Conditioning is a long-running issue for Embiid whenever he’s forced to spend significant time away from the game.

Can the Sixers attribute Joel Embiid’s struggles to injury rust?

There’s no reason for panic here. Rivers claims that Embiid is no longer bothered by the injury. The more Embiid plays, the better his conditioning will get. This explanation probably won’t assuage every fan, but it does explain the lethargy and general immobility Embiid has displayed on defense. It would also explain the constant hands on knees and the several instances of him just not getting back on defense. He’s gassed. We have seen Embiid gassed before, and it typically involves sloppy offense and crappy body language.

Sharpness was the defining feature of Embiid’s career-best basketball last season. He read double teams and made quick decisions with the ball. He was braver as a passer and more patient as a scorer. Rather than spinning errantly into doubles, Embiid let the defense show its hand before he chose how to attack it.

Through two games (and we have to again emphasize that it is only two games) Embiid’s patience and precision has been absent. He’s letting pressure force him into bad shots and turnovers. Rather than seek out better ways to get involved in the offense, we saw Embiid force iso after iso against Brook Lopez on Thursday. The result was miss after miss, with Lopez possessing more than enough strength and discipline to guard Embiid straight-up on the block. The solution would have been to involve Embiid more as a screener with Harden, or to get him out in space and moving downhill. He’s quicker and shiftier than Lopez, but no. He lazily called for post-ups at the elbow and got stuffed on repeat by Milwaukee’s elite interior defense.

As Embiid gets back up to speed he should start to play better. The Sixers played Milwaukee tight despite Embiid’s disastrous performance, so the fandom should take a deep breath and exercise patience. Harden looking like a superstar is more notable and important long-term than Embiid’s struggles, even if in the moment it’s difficult to digest two ugly losses on national TV.

We know who Embiid is. He wants to win more than anyone and he is a generational offensive talent. I have a hard time believing this two-game stinker is anything more than a blip on the radar. It’s frustrating right now and has illuminated some of Embiid’s bigger flaws, but expect him to return to superstar form at some point — probably sooner than later.

dark. Next. Ranking every player on the 2022-23 roster