How 76ers can win without Joel Embiid in lineup

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers often find themselves struggling to win games without Joel Embiid in the lineup on a nightly basis.

How can the Philadelphia 76ers win games without their superstar center, Joel Embiid, in the lineup?

It’s a simple question that nobody has been able to answer all season, not even Brett Brown. Following the Sixers trade with the Brooklyn Nets, which shipped off cancer Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a second-round pick for Trevor Booker, it appears as though they’re done making moves for the rest of the season. Despite their sub .500 record, there’s no glaring weakness on the current roster.

Current roster

Although there aren’t any weaknesses on the roster, the team doesn’t play the same way without Embiid in the lineup. I know that’s a vague thing to say, but Embiid brings different things to the table that nobody else on the roster can.

When Embiid doesn’t play due to whatever injury they choose to blame that day, the Sixers struggle, specifically on the defensive end of the floor. Booker, Amir Johnson, and Richaun Holmes all play tough defensively. However, they all have one problem, which is they lack the size to be a shot blocker or shot alterer. Due to the lack of shot blockers on the roster, I think it’s necessary for Brown to play all three bigs consistently. Holmes rarely sees the floor, although he plays with high energy and usually makes the most of his scarce opportunities.

I believe Holmes should take a few minutes away from Johnson, especially since Johnson has no future on this team, and Holmes should be a contributor for years to come.

Related Story: Embiid’s health holding 76ers back from being true playoff contenders

Without Embiid in the lineup, I would drastically change the starting rotation. I would start T.J. McConnell and move Ben Simmons to the 4 for defense. McConnell and Simmons have shown that they can play together on the floor together in harmony. That way, the Sixers could rotate Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Dario Saric into the lineup.

Who needs to step up?

The easy target is Simmons since he plays extremely passively, which is a very unique trait for a young player, but there are times when he needs to be an aggressive scorer. On nights when Embiid is out, the Sixers need Simmons to play aggressively and look to score the basketball more. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t score close to 20 points on a night when Embiid doesn’t play.

More from Philadelphia 76ers

It’s great that Simmons is an unselfish player because it’s easier to teach a young talent to be more selfish than it is to teach them how to be unselfish. For example, when the Sixers are running in transition and they have a man up on the defense, Simmons should look to attack the rim instead of getting into the paint then kicking it out. That works if you have great shooters, but the only guy who’s consistently been hitting threes this season is J.J. Redick. Robert Covington is a good shooter, but he has no concept of his role on the team or what is or isn’t a bad shot.

When Simmons is in transition and has the size advantage on his defender (which is almost always), he should drive aggressively to the rim looking to finish himself instead of dishing it out.

Saric is the next man up. He’s done a great job of utilizing his high motor this season. His energy has kept the Sixers in games this season when Embiid wasn’t playing. He’s shown great signs of scoring, rebounding, and even passing. Saric can put the ball on the floor and has fantastic court vision, especially in the high post.

Related Story: Holiday Turnovers: Why do the Philadelphia 76ers keep turning the ball over?

Big-to-big passing is an art, and Saric has come close to mastering it. He has to work hard on the defensive end due to his size. I’ve noticed Saric thinks he has a rebound secured, so he becomes lacks with his boxout attempt, and that can’t happen when he’s guarding a bigger player without Embiid in the lineup. He must outplay his matchup every night due to his smaller stature, but Saric has been doing a solid job of it so far this season. Hopefully, some of the other guys take notes and follow his lead.

Can Sixers win without Embiid?

They can’t win them all, but they have to take care of business against teams they should beat when Embiid doesn’t play. That means playing tough defense and communicating. Simply put, it means playing fundamental basketball, which is something this team of professionals somehow doesn’t know how to do.

On defense, every player needs to box out in order to secure the board. They need to play help defense and only switch when it won’t give the opposing team a clear mismatch. Offensively, they need to move the ball more and space the floor.

Each player needs to understand their individual role and play as a unit instead of the isolation basketball we’ve been accustomed to seeing. That’s why I promote players like McConnell and Holmes off the bench. Those guys play with heart and they play extremely unselfish tough basketball on both ends of the floor.

If the players on the floor can imagine themselves as a small part of a unit, they will move the ball better, which will create better-shot opportunities. After all, the defense can follow a single player, but it’s almost impossible to guard everyone when the ball is being zipped around the court in order to find the best possible shot in every possession.

Next: The Sixers win, it’s a Christmas miracle!

Overall, the Sixers have to clean up their act when Embiid isn’t available. That includes eliminating unforced errors and turnovers and playing team defense in a gritty manner. It’s a very simple idea, but that formula is a winning equation. This team needs simple tweaks, not a major overhaul. With the right teachings from Brown, the Sixers will be winning games on a consistent basis in no time.