Joel Embiid Prioritizing Maturity Over Dominance?
Following a victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers moved to 13-0 at home for the first time in 53 years. During the win, we got to witness something we haven't seen a lot this season -- Joel Embiid having fun.
"I haven't done it enough all season," Embiid said about his post-shot shimmy. "I have not been having fun like usually. Like I said, just mainly because I'm still trying to figure it out...you know, how to make it work and all that stuff."
Going into the season, Embiid vowed to be more mature and cut down on the trash talk. After a heart-breaking exit in the playoffs against the Raptors, it seemed like a very mature decision from the big man. Instead of talking the talk, he'd just walk the walk. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a whole lot of either to this point.
Embiid, while putting up pretty strong numbers, has regressed in some areas and continues to struggle with turnovers. Through 20 games this season, Embiid is averaging 22 points (down from 27.5), 12.4 rebounds (down from 13.6), 3.1 assists (down from 3.7), 1.4 blocks (down from 1.9) while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor (down from 48.4) and 50.4 percent from two-point range (down from 53.5). In terms of total shot percentage, Embiid has dropped from 59.3 percent last season to 57.5 percent this year.Despite some drop-off in production, he's still a force on the defensive end with a defensive rating of 98, which is six points better than last season. His presence in the post alone disrupts opposing shots. On the offensive end, though, there leaves a lot to be desired. Is it a scheme problem? A mental issue? For Embiid, it may be as simple as returning to his old trash talking self.
"It goes back to with me being mature and one of the biggest parts of my game is just having fun," Embiid continued. "And by having fun, it's talking trash, but that part has kind of been cut. So I need to be myself, and I guess do whatever I want because when I'm having fun, I dominate."
For a guy that stands 7-foot-2 with sneakers, Embiid needs to be productive in the paint. The roster, as currently constructed, doesn't allow for that as much as before with Ben Simmons and Al Horford needing their touches there and Tobias Harris becoming more of a driver than a perimeter shooter, which lessens space. Still, Embiid needs to be better and more dominant where he's best -- in the post. Embiid leads the NBA in post ups per game (10.4) but is 55th in the league in points in the paint (8.2). He's taken nearly as many three's (70) as he has shots at the rim (88) and more jump shots (195) than layups, hook shots and dunks combined. If the key to unlocking Embiid's dominance is to let him talk smack (and not get into fights), what is stopping him?
"I'm not trying to be a distraction to the team. The fight happened, and we had good momentum and from there we just kinda lost it, and we lost a couple games," Embiid told reporters after the game. "So I'm not trying to be a distracion, but that's (trash talk) just part of my game. And I feel like me losing that part has been kinda, I think it's kinda taken a toll on my game."
It's good of Embiid to take the high road and be mature about not wanting to be a distraction, but there also has to be a happy medium between talking trash and starting fights. Embiid has never been one to let outside noise from media and fans get to him, but his maturity was a big subject last year with regard to staying in shape. Has his thick skin been penetrated? Maybe.
"Everybody knows that I do whatever it takes to win," said Embiid. "I care about my teammates, I care about the organization, I care about being a role model. Everybody tells me that I need to be -- you know, from fans to everbody else -- I gotta be mature. So I'm doing it. I don't think it's working, but I'm gonna keep doing it."
You also have to wonder if the organization sat down with Joel and told him he needs to reel it in. If that's the case, they may want to rethink their stance so things get back to some sense of normalcy for Embiid. If he believes that displaying maturity is hurting his game, then he needs to do what it takes to get back to form within reason.
Embiid has been through a lot since arriving in Philadelphia. He's missed two full seasons due to foot injury, he tore his meniscus and missed the majority of his rookie year, he lost his brother and dealt with knee and back issues last season. If a little bit of fun, trash talk and shimmying could be the remedy for a turnaround, then so be it. Let the man dominate. The Sixers championship hopes will be better for it.
Brandon Apter is a Sixers contributor to 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23.