Philadelphia 76ers: For Joel Embiid, improved playmaking is key

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

As things presently stand, Joel Embiid is the best center in the NBA, but if he can improve his playmaking, the Philadelphia 76ers will unstoppable.

Joel Embiid is the best center in the NBA.

Measuring in at a (conservative) 7-foot, 250 pounds, the Philadelphia 76ers‘ starting center is a two-time All-Star at the tender age of 24, and could very well debut on the first-team All-Pro list once the 2018-19 season comes to a close.

However, just because Embiid’s unstoppable in the paint, can shoot from 3-point range, and gets to the charity stripe more often than any player not named James Harden, doesn’t mean there still aren’t facets of his game that could be improved upon.

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Well, technically some aspects of his game are more or less set, as Embiid will never have an amazing handle due to his overwhelming size, but if he can pick his playmaking abilities up a notch, the Cameroonian big man will be unstoppable.

So far this season, Embiid is averaging 3.6 assists per game, good for the fourth-best mark of any center in the NBA. Now granted, those numbers are a bit less impressive when you account for the fact that Embiid also turns the ball over 3.5 times a game, good for an almost 1:1 assist to turnover ratio (that ugly handle), but still, the fact that Embiid is willing to share the ball and get his teammates involved should be commended.

It frankly should be encouraged.

While Embiid isn’t going to make anyone forget about Nikola Jokic anytime soon, as the fourth-year Serbian big man has recorded an insane seven triple-doubles this season, beefing up his assist percentage could make ‘The Process’ all but unguardable.

Here’s how.

Right now, Embiid takes an average of 8.2 of his 18.4 shots a game from within five feet of the basket with a 66.4 completion percentage, good for the ninth-highest mark of any player in the league. While those are impressive numbers, they also highlight a situation fans in Philly have seen innumerable times; Joel Embiid in the paint, the clock winding down, in all-out iso mode. Typically, that situation results in a bucket, but it’s also resulted in many, many turnovers, a groan-inducing outcome for Philly fans the world over.

When Embiid is getting double, or even triple teamed in the paint, a situation he practically expects at this point, there are always going to players open on the wings, ready and willing to take a higher percentage shot. If Embiid can keep his eyes on the wings when driving, an easy task when his back is to the basket, it will force opposing teams to think again about shifting multiple bodies into the paint.

Which is a good thing, because a single-teamed Embiid in the paint is two points all day, every day.

Much like how Embiid perching on the wings can help with the team’s spacing when Ben Simmons is on the court, if JoJo can become a more consistent facilitator from the five spot, in the vein of vintage T-Wolves Kevin Love, his efficiency should spike considerably.

In 2013-14, Love averaged a career-high 4.5 assists a game to go along with the most points per game of his career (26.1) and his most made 3-pointers made a game (2.5). While those numbers aren’t necessarily related, Love’s effectiveness as a passer helped to free up better shots all over the court and helped to secure his third Western Conference All-Star berth.

Love recorded those numbers at the tender age of 25, one year younger than Embiid is now and the year prior, he was bogged down with a very similar 2.5-2.4 assist to turnover ratio.

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Now granted, the two player’s situations could not be more different, as Kevin Love was the lone star on a small market team, and Joel Embiid is among the most popular players in the league on an Eastern Conference powerhouse, but if ‘The Process’ can find a way to take a step forward as a passer and complement Simmons as a secondary playmaker, his game would be all the more unguardable, and make the Philadelphia 76ers all the more unstoppable.