The Philadelphia 76ers enter the NBA playoffs shorthanded. They need more from Joel Embiid than ever before, and it might just be more than he has to offer.
The Philadelphia 76ers don’t make anything look easy. Even at full strength with Ben Simmons, the offense is clunky and ineffective while the defense just doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents in the way it should with the personnel they have. Joel Embiid is a perennial All-Defense candidate, and yet a good but not great defense was the result this season (eighth in the league with a defensive rating of 108.9).
Of course, the Sixers aren’t going into these NBA playoffs at full strength. Simmons is out for the season, and while the halfcourt offense maybe flows a bit smoother with him gone, his absence creates a talent vacuum that is difficult to overcome in this league.
With Simmons gone, the Philadelphia 76ers need more from Joel Embiid, and what they need from him may be nothing short of superhuman.
Embiid is both their best offensive and best defensive player, especially now, and the Sixers fall off a cliff on both ends when he’s out of the game. Much like when he left the floor last year in the playoffs, his team can’t afford minutes with him off. In the 2018-19 NBA playoffs, a much better Philadelphia 76ers squad had an incredible -20.9 net rating when he was off and +20.4 when he was on for a spectacular -41.3 swing per 100 possessions.
In Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on Monday, the Sixers were outscored by six points when he was on the floor. Of course, that’s most of the margin of their eight-point loss in a 109-101 game, but in this case, much of the story was what happened when he was on the floor.
The Sixers struggled to even get the ball to him in the post with just six in his 37 minutes. His six post-ups were well below his average of 8.4 per game during the regular season, and those post-ups constituted 37.1 percent of his offensive possessions in the regular season.
When you can’t even get your best scorer the ball, it’s going to be an issue. It speaks to the difficulties that come from having a center as your top guy, but it’s something they’re going to have to figure out.
Before the scrimmage games began, Sixers head coach Brett Brown indicated that he was hoping to get 38 minutes per game out of Joel Embiid in the playoffs. Embiid came up just short of that number in Game 1 and appeared to be winded or weary well before the final minutes.
While his teammates are going to have to find some way to feed him more, the Sixers are just going to need more availability from him as this series goes on. 38 minutes is a lot for Joel Embiid, but even that probably won’t be enough.
Last season in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors, Embiid played 45 minutes and 12 seconds. The Sixers were +10 in those minutes.
They lost that game by two points.
What the Philadelphia 76ers need from his teammates is probably not impossible. This season they actually had a +4.3 net rating in the 1417 possessions when Al Horford was on the floor and Joel Embiid was off it. They’re even +1.0 when both Embiid and Simmons are off, which is a major mark in Horford’s favor, and he wasn’t around last season when the Sixers were gashed in Embiid’s absence.
That said, winning Embiid’s minutes are critical if the Sixers hope to win this series, let alone make a deep run, and they’re simply going to need more minutes from him.
If Game 1 is any indication, however, they may simply be unable to count on that.
On/off data courtesy of NBA Wowy