With the start of another season of 76ers basketball upon us, it is also bold prediction season all around the NBA. Here are three bold predictions about Joel Embiid for this upcoming 2023-24 season. These are not guarantees, just a shot in the dark at what might happen or what we hope happens. It will probably be in the Sixers’ best interest if these things really do come true. Here’s hoping!
In many off-season discussions about this year’s best defensive players, Joel Embiid is seeing his name mentioned anywhere from the fifth to the twelfth best defender in the NBA. Based upon his old goals he wanted to be First-Team All-NBA, and he wanted to be a league MVP, and both of those individual achievements have been accomplished. The last solo award that he has publicly mentioned in the past is the Defensive Player of the Year. He is a man of great pride and he knows that if his team doesn’t ever win a championship, then he wants to walk into the Hall of Fame with as many accolades as possible listed next to his name. This year under new coach Nick Nurse it will be in the team’s best interest to utilize Joel a little differently than in the past. Last year Doc Rivers chose to play a little slower and utilize Embiid and James Harden in a lot of two-man, half-court sets, and they were very effective. This year they need to play to the strengths of their young athletes, force turnovers, and get out and run. Embiid is not a speed demon, so this will mean using him in a slightly different fashion. His focus should be on defense first, rebounding second, and scoring third. He is still an elite offensive weapon, so when the game slows down they will still want the ball in his hands, but getting out on the break and moving without the ball to involve more personnel will be better for everyone in the grand scheme of things. Imagine if Rudy Gobert was more athletic, had great hands and feet, and had the moves and skills to take over a game down the stretch. That’s the idea to unlock the most efficient Embiid this season. The guards can switch and gamble out high, leaving room for Joel to switch and stay down low on defense to focus on blocks, rebounds, and intimidation. When the other four guys take off to run, Embiid can take his time and jog down the floor, saving some of his offensive energy for defense. Played properly, it could spell out a more balanced offense and a defensive player of the year trophy for Joel.
2. Less playing time
The Sixers have never had a fantastic backup for Joel during his time with the team, and this year may not be different. However, Nurse is the most adaptable and creative coach that Embiid has had and should be able to find ways to mix up the game plan depending upon who is on the floor at Center. Nurse played his starters into the ground in Toronto the last two years, but he is smart and will change to suit his situation. In this case, having Joel at 100% in the playoffs and even having him fresh and strong in the closing minutes of regular season games is the only thing that should matter to anyone, including Joel. His scoring numbers will go down by 5-6 points if they spread the offense and put more of Joel’s focus on D, so he won’t need the minutes to chase a scoring title. If they can play him around 30 minutes per game, down from the 34.6 he averaged last year, he will be stronger and faster during those 30 minutes. He will be better in the clutch if he’s not exhausted and extending his career should be the most important goal for everyone involved.
3. No trade requests
If the Harden situation drags into the season the fog of negativity that follows it will become thicker and thicker, possibly leading to an unhappy big man. However, if the team can move “the beard” fairly early into the season the focal point will once again be basketball and the Sixers can focus on staying in the hunt for that third playoff position, behind the Celtics and Bucks. They have all seen what lower playoff seeds have been able to accomplish in the last few years, so the notion of growing slowly, being a stalking horse, and catching fire in the playoffs should be an easy one to sell to Joel and the rest of the team. If they can add another good player to work with Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, there is no reason to believe that can’t happen. In that case, you will not hear one single word from Joel Embid or his camp about wanting to be traded, and all of these silly rumors will die down. If anyone significant misses large amounts of time, this season could slip away and a grumpy Joel could request a trade. Those are two big “ifs” to keeping Joel from requesting a trade, but the plan should be to move Harden ASAP and no one can control injuries. If things go as planned this year will be positive, the locker room should be cohesive, and Embiid will reiterate how much he loves playing in Philly.
Everyone is undefeated right now, and anyone who wants to complain about the Sixers will have 82 games to do it in. For now, let’s embrace what’s possible, appreciate the superstar center that we have in town, and look forward to another exciting season of Sixers basketball!