Embiid has seen a drop in his scoring numbers this season, from 27.5 points per game down to 22.0 points. His minutes are down slightly (33.7 to 30.4) and his rebounding has dropped accordingly, from 13.6 to 12.4. He’s seen his shooting percentage fall from 48.4 percent to 45.8 percent.
So Barkley and O’Neal, speaking on TNT’s postgame coverage Tuesday, offered sharp criticism of Embiid.
“You want to be great or you want to be good?” O’Neal said. “If you want to be good, keep getting 22 points. You want to be great, give me 28, give me 30.”
Barkley said Embiid is failing to measure up against other top MVP candidates like James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic. “It’s frustrating for me, because I picked the Sixers to get to the Finals,” Barkley said. “They ain’t got no chance.”
Speaking Thursday morning here at TD Garden in Boston, where his Sixers were to play the Celtics, Embiid didn’t much argue with that.
“Maybe they’re right,” Embiid said. “I do think they’re right. I need to be more aggressive, just look to impose myself, just look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the way it’s affected my efficiency and my stats, so I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate.”
But Embiid offered a qualifier. He pointed out that he’s spent more of this season facing down double-teams than he has at any point in his career.
“The way I’m being guarded this year, I think every time I touch the ball, heavy double-teams, triple-team,” Embiid said. “So I’m just trying to navigate through it and just be a basketball player and make the right plays. If I get double-teamed, my teammates know that I’m going to pass it, so it’s about balancing between trying to make something happen for your team and making the right play.”
Sixers Coach Brett Brown: “Joel Owns Some Things”
Just before the tip-off in Boston, Sixers coach Brett Brown echoed that sentiment. He praised Embiid’s ability to make the right plays when double-teamed but also praised Embiid’s willingness to accept the way he was being criticized for his lack of domination.
“I’ve only learned about this more this morning and somebody showed me Joel’s response,” Brown said. “And I respect his response. Joel owns some things. … He’s really being double-teamed. It doesn’t minimize what Shaq and Charles felt from an energy and just a domination standpoint. Jo owned it. I respected Jo’s response.”
Brown pointed out that Embiid leads the league in post-up touches. That’s true—he has 8.0 post touches per game, well ahead of No. 2 in the league, Anthony Davis (6.2). He also said that Embiid is “incredibly efficient” in the post and that’s also true. Embiid averages 1.08 points per possession in the post, which is the best in the league of players who get at least 3.0 possessions in the paint. He gets to the free-throw line on 30.8 percent of his post touches, which also leads the league.
“When you look at, kind of raw numbers, he used to average 28 now he is averaging 22, he’s having to pass a lot more,” Brown said. “From a statistical justification as it relates to just points per game, go watch the games. He’s being forced to pass a lot. Because he’s that good. That’s how I see it.”
But his post-up numbers are not much different than last year. Embiid got 8.1 post-up possessions last season and scored 1.05 points per possession. He went to the free-throw line 26.6 percent of the time. He passed the ball on 66.7 percent of his touches last year. That’s virtually the same as this year, 66.9 percent.
Embiid may be getting more double-teams but his numbers in terms of passes made and post-up chances look much the same as they did last year. Maybe Barkley and O’Neal are on to something.
“I get what they’re saying,” Embiid said, “and I think they’re right. I’ve got to make a change.”