Philadelphia 76ers: Who is to blame for Joel Embiid’s lack of touches?

(Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

Why won’t the Philadelphia 76ers feed Joel Embiid?

The Philadelphia 76ers dropped Game 1 to the Boston Celtics on Monday night in a performance that left fans with plenty to be angry about.

As usual, the anger was directed toward the team’s star player, Joel Embiid, but more specifically, his lack of touches which led to limited production, particularly down the stretch. Anyone who believed the Sixers had any shot in this series agreed the only way an upset was possible was if Embiid could be an absolute monster offensively, dominating on the inside while navigating double teams like he’s passing his drivers test. That was certainly not the case in the first game of the series.

While it is easy to harness all the blame on Embiid himself, and his head coach, Brett Brown, for attempting only 15 shots in 37 minutes, there are more factors in play with this Sixers team.

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With Ben Simmons out, Brad Stevens‘ crew implemented and brilliantly executed a defensive strategy that put maximum pressure on Philly’s incompetent ball handling. It was clear all night that anyone Brown put on the floor tasked with distributing the ball simply wasn’t capable of handling the pressure thrown at them by Boston’s perimeter defenders.

That isn’t Coach Brown’s fault that no current and healthy Sixers player is experienced or skillful enough to deliver sharp passes to Embiid on the block or in the mid-post. Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown were just too long, too quick and too strong for the Sixers guards all night, especially when it mattered most. According to John Hollinger of The Athletic, Embiid received just one single pass from a teammate from the five minute, 53-second mark of the fourth quarter to 16 seconds left. In a game that was in reach throughout, that is unfathomable.

Turnovers were a nightmare for the Sixers all night as the Celtics scored 21 points off of Philly’s 17 turnovers, according to Many of these turnovers came in the form of lazy, lollipop passes trying to feed Embiid. Embiid’s primary post passers – Josh Richardson, Shake Milton and Al Horford – finished the game with three turnovers each.

When the Sixers did successfully (albeit rarely) feed Embiid in his spots, they were almost never crisp passes. Embiid often had to move off of his spot just to make a clean catch, forcing him to get out of position. This made it easier for the Celtics to send a double team that would already be coming soon after the catch.

Just like every great wide receiver needs a great quarterback, every great post player needs a great passer.

With all that being said, Brown and Embiid are not completely absolved of blame. Let’s start with the head coach. Like always, Brown has served as a scapegoat for management’s incompetence. There are no incredibly skilled guards walking through the door for Philly. Brown is dealing with a dysfunctional, quirky roster. However, he has to make the best of a bad situation and find creative ways to get JoJo involved, and he needs to do it immediately if he wants any chance of winning this series and keeping his job.

If traditional post-ups are not possible, Brown needs to find ways to utilize Embiid more in the pick and roll with Tobias Harris, where Embiid rolls hard to the basket and Harris comes off into either his beloved pull-up jumper or finds Embiid on the roll. The dribble-hand-off the Sixers run has had minimal success this season and Embiid has expressed his frustration with it because of the lack of personnel available since J.J. Redick’s departure. There is no easy solution to this formula, but Brown needs to find some innovation quickly.

The loudest critique of Embiid’s young career – aside from his injury history – has been his inconsistent motor. There are times where he plays with all the energy in the world, and there are times where it looks like he would rather be anywhere but on a basketball court. We have all seen both sides numerous times, and that was no different on Monday night.

While everything previously stated about his teammates’ inability to feed him the ball is true, Embiid must be more assertive, particularly in these playoffs, when his team’s survival rests on his shoulders. Superstar players, regardless of position, demand the ball in crunch time situations and if Embiid wants to reach that level, he must be no different.

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Like with many of the team’s issues, there is blame to go around for everyone. There is no easy fix to get Joel Embiid more touches, but it is essential if the Philadelphia 76ers want to have any chance of competing in this series.