Wednesday’s game between the Nets and 76ers will feature two MVP-caliber players in Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. This season, the two All-Stars’ playing styles look more like each other than ever before.
Just ask Embiid.
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Embiid Compares Himself to Durant
Embiid was an All-Star in each of the past three seasons, but he’s seen his game reach even more impressive heights in 2021. A year after averaging 23 points on 47.7 percent shooting from the field and 33.1 from 3-point range, Embiid is going off this season, his fourth straight year as an All-Star. He’s averaging 29.6 points on a career-high 52 percent shooting from the field and 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. Even his free-throw shooting has improved dramatically, from 80.7 percent shooting last season to a career-high 85.2 percent this season.
In Embiid’s assessment, his growth offensively has come through embracing a style of play that mimics Durant’s.
“I’ve never seen myself as just being a post player,” Embiid said Monday, via Jackson Frank of The Step Back, after dropping 36 points on 10-of-17 shooting in leading Philadelphia to a 113-95 rout of the Dallas Mavericks. “I’ve always seen myself as just being, you know, like, I don’t know, Kevin Durant, just moving all over the place, shooting off the dribble, handling the ball, crossovers, posting up.”
Embiid elaborated a bit more on how his offensive game has changed from last year:
Last year was a bunch of post-ups. I had to figure that out. This year, it’s more dynamic. The past few seasons, I’ve had a tendency to kind of do the same, but then again, if I hadn’t put the work in to get better in those other facets of the game, meaning shooting off the dribble, handling the ball, setting picks, pick and pop, handoffs, coming off screens and posting up… if I hadn’t worked on that, it would not be the same, but when we lost in the bubble and I was working out, we really focused on just working my game off the dribble and that’s helped a lot. This year, the system that we have in place is dynamic. It allows me to not be a 5, it allows me to be a basketball player, either to run the offense or to score or to facilitate for other guys, so it just allows me to just be myself.
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Durant Settling Back In
Durant, meanwhile, is getting back into the swing of things for the Nets after missing 23 straight games due to a lingering hamstring strain. The 11-time All-Star has played in each of Brooklyn’s past two games, averaging 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
Good, but not exactly the MVP-worthy numbers he was posting in the 19 games he played to start the season before injuries derailed his momentum. A key difference between then and now: Durant has averaged only 21.4 minutes in each of the past two games, nearly 15 fewer than he was playing before his injury.
“We’ll still monitor his minutes, play a little more than last game but not back to his normal load,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said ahead of the team’s game against the Lakers on Saturday, via SNY. “We definitely want to make sure that we err on the side of caution as far as his reentry into playing and the schedule and all the demands. So he’ll play a little more but not back to his normal minutes. Just keep inching towards that.”