Game centers

Playing in ‘every possible match’ among Joel Embiid’s priorities for 2022-23

CHARLESTON, SC — Joel Embiid offered this quip when asked during his summer’s 76ers media day, “I was chilling on the couch, so I didn’t really work on my game. We’re gonna so having to wait and see how the season goes.

And when the topic of offseason priorities surfaced after Thursday’s practice at the Citadel, “sleep” was Embiid’s one-word response.

The half-hearted responses are a reminder of why Embiid calls himself “Troel”. Another crucial season looms on the horizon for the All-NBA center, following a 2021-22 season that was consistently spectacular until it ended in frustration. Embiid led the NBA in scoring and again finished second in MVP voting to the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić, before two ‘outlier’ injuries – a torn thumb ligament that required surgery and an orbital fracture that put him in a protective mask — suffered during the first round of the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors hampered Embiid’s stretch run.

How will he approach a 2022-23 season with rising league aspirations and individual expectations? Replicating that regular season durability, refining details and improving teammates will be part of the equation.

“Obviously you can’t control freak crashes,” Embiid said of the end of last season. “But I felt good. I must continue. I’ve only been doing this for 20 years, so I have to do everything while I can.

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Last season, Embiid became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 to be the NBA’s leading scorer (30.6 points per game), brilliantly anchoring a Sixers team that navigated the Ben Simmons saga. and the blockbuster midseason trade for James Harden. Embiid also improved his assist average by more than one per game, from 2.8 in 2020-21 to 4.2. And he played a career-high 68 regular-season games, deliberately aiming to shed that part of his reputation after an injury-plagued start to his career.

To call the torn finger ligament and broken face inappropriate would be an understatement, although Embiid said: “You can’t blame anyone. It happens. You move on. He added that he wasn’t sure if his thumb would “still feel the same” after the operation, but was getting used to how it felt. After last season’s heavier workload, Embiid remained adamant that he wanted to play in “every game possible” and “as many minutes as possible”.

Coach Doc Rivers added: “Yeah, we want him to do it again.”

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The offseason is typically when Embiid has been working to expand his offensive game with prominent personal trainer Drew Hanlen. Over the past few seasons, Embiid has implemented off-the-dribble moves inspired by idol Kobe Bryant – a marvel considering Embiid’s size – and has made more advanced reads when defenders assault him.

Earlier this week, Rivers repeated the word “dominate” when asked to think about where Embiid should go next. Not just with Embiid’s own powerful score, but helping his teammates gain momentum with his presence and play.

This, however, still requires the Sixers to get the ball from Embiid to attract double and triple teams.

Embiid continued to work on timing and spacing in the pick-and-roll with Harden, who spent years automatically going to iso-ball when he gets a defensive switch, but can now make it so that Embiid is guarded by a smaller adversary. Teammate Tobias Harris offered more candor after practice on Thursday, saying: ‘We weren’t really that good [at] obtain [Embiid] basketball at the post” last season.

“We would go back to it a lot,” Harris said. “Our spacing wasn’t good when we gave him the ball. … So it’s small details, but there’s a lot to discover there. It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s pass the ball to Joel.’ But really, it’s like, ‘No, let’s pass the ball to Joel. Let’s give him space to operate. Everyone knows his role at the back.

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Embiid added: “Someone might be open because the defenses are going to tip over. It’s a good strategy. We just have to be great at it. We just have to be great passers and we just have to attack. … He “There are a lot of options that come into play to try to give me the ball. There are a lot of things that open up.”

After finishing second MVP for the second straight season, Embiid said he no longer cares about winning the sport’s most prestigious individual award. He reiterated that point on the media day, instead emphasizing a recommitment to defense assuring, “I plan to get back to the level I was before I had all this offensive load.

“Whatever happens happens,” Embiid said of the potential personal accolades. “It’s something that doesn’t worry me. All I worry about is having the best team in the league. Because if you win games, everything else will take care of itself.

None of this came as a surprise to the acquisition of prized free agent PJ Tucker. When asked to detail why he chose the Sixers in free agency, the great veteran playfully replied, “Uh, that guy, I can’t remember the guy’s name… Embiid?

“I love his energy,” Tucker said. “Right now he comes in ready, does what he does and everyone around him is learning.”