Sixers Still Searching For Offensive Balance Amid Isolation Concerns

James Harden, Joel Embiid

Getty James Harden #1 (L) and Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers react during the fourth quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Wells Fargo Center on October 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Philadelphia 76ers continue to make adjustments in their style of play to maximize the abilities of both James Harden and Joel Embiid in addition to the rest of the team. At the root of this issue are the isolation-based nature of both guys and the lack of movement off the ball. Through the first 26 games of the season, the Sixers rank 27th in pace and have the fourth-fewest total possession on the season as a whole. The 23.8 assists they tally per game ranks 19th in the NBA with their potential assists (41.8 per game) ranking 27th. Doc Rivers recently discussed their continued search to maximize the offense and the unique challenges of building around a big man in the modern NBA.

As Rivers put it to reporters pregame ahead of the recent win over the Hornets, “The question I always ask is should we not give it to Joel (Embiid) in iso? Of course you should. He’s the best player in the league at that. So we’re not other teams that can have that. You know you watch Golden State last night, they are a guard-oriented team, they’re going to move. That’s their pace…Our pace is when the play stops, don’t stand. Keep moving, keep cutting.” While the NBA has nearly eliminated the mid-range from most players’ shot diets, it remains one of Embiid’s most efficient shots which is an interesting twist within the Sixers’ offense.

Defining Pace

With Embiid and Harden as the two most ball-dominant players, the Sixers will never find themselves playing with a run-and-gun style of play. Tyrese Maxey provides a nice change-of-pace to the duo, but their offense will be defined by the half-court success when all things are said and done.

Coach Rivers had another interesting note when discussing pace within the Sixers’ offense. As he put it, “Pace- to us- does not mean fast break running up and down the floor. Pace means movement and, you know, continuing to play through the play. Never getting stuck, ball doesn’t get stuck, bodies don’t get stuck, that’s what pace means to us.”

He also followed up on Embiid’s isolation opportunities and made it clear he believes the team can still find their desired pace in these sets. Rivers pointed to more off-ball movement around Embiid as the key to this and something the team is still attempting to get better at.

Injuries Have Played a Factor

The lengthy list of injuries to start the season has been a notable hurdle in the team’s chemistry growth. The trio of Harden, Maxey, and Embiid have spent a total of just 135:23 game minutes on the court together so far this season. To reach their ceiling as a team, the Sixers will need more repetitions with their best three players on the floor.

However, there is still plenty to be ironed out with their style of play with or without the stars. During the shorthanded stretch without any of the three on the floor, the Sixers played some of their best basketball. Philadelphia managed to go 3-1 during this stretch and played a brand of team basketball that fans were thrilled to see. The ball movement was better, everyone was involved, and it translated into the win colu

Finding a way to bring this together with the stars on the floor is the next step. Embiid and Harden are always going to get the first opportunity, but ensuring others remain involved is crucial. The Sixers will continue their homestead with a terrific chance to continue improving at this. Their next challenge will be against the Sacramento Kings in the third game of seven straight played at the Wells Fargo Center.

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