Despite the increased excitement heading into the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have not gotten off to the start of the season they hoped. The Sixers have now dropped their opening two matchups with a most recent heartbreaking 90-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. One of the biggest storylines coming out of the opening two performances has been the concerning play of superstar Joel Embiid.
During the loss to the Bucks, Embiid scored just 15 points and shot 6-21 from the field. The MVP runner-up also added 12 rebounds and 3 assists but turned the ball over four times and posted a -10 plus/minus rating. If it were not for a dazzling performance from James Harden, who scored 31 points on an efficient 13-24 shooting performance, the Sixers likely would have been blown out in the matchup.
Embiid’s Struggles Cause For Concern?
This is now back-to-back nights in which Embiid has not looked like his superstar self. Through the first two games of the season, he has shot just 15-39 (38.5%) from the field and 2-9 (22.2%) from beyond the three-point arc. The Sixers have relied on their superstar heavily and thus far he has not been able to answer the call.
Perhaps worse than the shooting struggles has been the seeming level of disconnect that Embiid has played with. On several occasions, he failed to get back on defense and forced the Sixers to play five-on-four. For a player who has preached the importance of the defensive side of the floor and seemingly has his eye on a Defensive Player of the Year nomination, Embiid has made some notable misreads in coverage and failed to bring energy which has negatively impacted the team.
The Sixers fans took notice of his poor play and effort level. The typical fan-favorite was showered with boos during the third quarter when his struggles seemingly hit their peak. Embiid was 0-5 with three turnovers during this time. Milwaukee extended their lead by seven points in the quarter.
Are These Embiid’s Typical Early Season Struggles?
When asked about Embiid’s performance following the game Doc Rivers downplayed his struggles. As Rivers put it per Heavy’s Mike Greger, “He didn’t have one of his better games. He did a lot of other things for us tonight. I know defensively he was pretty good for us tonight. He got up 21 shots, I didn’t like where some of them were when he got it. So we still are a work in progress offensively. We gotta get a better rhythm.”
It is worth noting that slow starts to the season have not been uncommon in Embiid’s career. Just last season, Embiid averaged 23.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game while shooting 43.9% from the field through the opening 12 games. In the 50 games following the slow start, Embiid averaged 33.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game while connecting on 51.7% of his field goal attempts. The Sixers superstar ultimately led the NBA in scoring and finished second in the league in MVP voting.
This also is not the first time Embiid has been booed by the Philadelphia faithful. He understandably did not appear to be in good spirits following the loss. Embiid left the facility without speaking to the media so he did not comment on his performance or the fans’ reaction.
On the positive side of things, the Sixers still managed to hang in there with one of the Eastern Conference’s top contenders despite Embiid’s poor performance. Before Harden’s arrival, the Sixers had seemingly no chance to win if he played like this. Harden showed the ability to carry the primary load and the Sixers played a small-ball lineup around the point guard which managed to overcome the double-digit deficit. The Sixers are just two games into the season and once the two superstars can get on the same page and play at a high level, the ceiling of this team will be drastically raised.