With the departure of James Harden, the Sixers are looking for others to help fill the void left by the reigning NBA assists leader. An unlikely contributor has emerged through the Sixers’ first games in the form of star center Joel Embiid.
Through three games, Embiid is averaging a team-best seven assists per contest, which would be a new career high if sustained. His mark of seven assists per game puts him just ahead of Tyrese Maxey (6.3) for the Sixers lead and has him in the top 15 in the NBA as of this writing. While three games is certainly a small sample size, it is clear that Embiid has made strides in improving his playmaking ability.
During Embiid’s rookie year in 2016, he averaged 2.1 assists per game, a mark that remained steady until 2021 when he averaged a career-best 4.2 assists. That year, Embiid stepped up in the absence of Ben Simmons and led the team in assists until James Harden arrived in Philadelphia at the trade deadline.
Embiid continued to get his teammates involved in 2022 even with James Harden in the fold, holding steady at 4.2 assists per contest. This is noteworthy as he expanded his game beyond just being a scorer and rim protector.
While Embiid is not on Jokic’s level, it is an important step in the right direction.
In today’s NBA, centers are more versatile than ever and this adds another element to the Sixers star’s arsenal. If he can continue to get his teammates involved while scoring at an efficient rate, Embiid has a chance to propel the Sixers to a high seed in the Eastern Conference even without James Harden at the helm.
At the same time, Embiid is continuing to turn over the ball at a concerning rate. His 3.4 turnovers per game in 2022 was his most since 2018 and he has 11 through 3 games. Turnovers are to be expected when you handle the ball a lot, but it is important for him not to give away points in close contests. With many games coming down to the wire, every possession is critical in the NBA and these turnovers can make or break a team, especially during the postseason.
After last year’s disappointing postseason run, expectations are higher than ever for Embiid. Labeled with critiques ranging from being a “choke artist” to a “flopper” and accused of chasing trophies without delivering a championship to Philadelphia, Embiid faces heightened expectations. Even his most loyal supporters have criticized him for failing to live up to expectations when it matters most.
Fans, analysts, and the basketball community are eager for Embiid to take the next step, especially in the postseason. If Embiid can continue to dish the ball effectively while maintaining his scoring efficiency, the Sixers have a legitimate shot at being contenders in this league. Opposing teams will be forced to gameplan around this, which will lead to increased offensive output. This is especially important in the modern NBA which focuses more on scoring and less on defense.
Embiid’s progression as a playmaker not only enhances his repertoire but also bolsters the Sixers’ offensive capabilities significantly.
As the season continues to come into motion, all eyes are on Embiid to see if he can transform these early glimpses of playmaking brilliance into sustained success, ultimately driving the Philadelphia 76ers toward a deep playoff run and, perhaps, a shot at the coveted NBA championship.