Joel Embiid and the 76ers have not had the dominant season they were hoping for so far as we approach Christmas. Philadelphia is a respectable 18-7, but something has looked off all season. Sure the 76er have wins over teams like the Celtics, Raptors, and Nuggets but that includes losses to the likes of the Wizards and Magic. Wins don’t look as impressive as they should. Losses feel like an example of their weaknesses being put on display. A lot of that 18-7 record has come against a pretty easy early season schedule.
But, a lot of this is is the attention to detail that is necessary during the long season. Nobody thinks the 76ers are in trouble. They just want to see them perform to the best of their ability. This includes Embiid. His numbers are down this season. Nothing major, just a slight dip, but enough of one to have analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal at Inside the NBA questioning his effort. Despite a 22 point effort from Embiid in the 76ers win over the Nuggets, Barkley and O’Neal criticized his effort. They felt that his performance wasn’t enough to be great.
Shaq: Embiid had 22 points right? So when Charles and I make comments like he’s not playing well people think it’s hate. It’s not that it’s hate. It’s that we see greatness in him. 22 points is okay but it aint great. You have the potential to be a great player. We expect great things from you…I’ve always made it simple for big guys. Seven points a quarter. If you a big guy and you dominate you should average 28-10. 28-15.
Chuck: But also. If I was playing against a guy like Joker. Another guy who everybody thinks he a great center. I’m going off. I love when people say we play every game the same. First of all that’s bogus. You don’t play all 82 games as hard as you can. But I know this. When I’m playing against Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, guys who are great power forwards. My intensity is up. I want to let them know, no I’m the best power forward. Tonight, you saw these two centers, who are both elite. And neither one of’em like no, I want you to know I’m the best center.”
Embiid was asked about Chuck and Shaq’s comments after his performance saying that he didn’t try hard enough. Surprisingly, Embiid agreed.Via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.
“Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they’re right. I think I need to be more aggressive, and just look to impose myself and look to dominate,” he said.
“I think the whole season I haven’t done that, and you can see the way it has affected my efficiency and my stats, so I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominating. But I get what they are saying and I think they are right, man. I have to make a change.”
There’s a method to the madness of Shaq and Chuck here that makes sense. When as a fan you sit down for a primetime matchup between two of the best big men in the NBA and come away with a feeling that it was just a regular game and no one came out to prove a point, it’s hard to get excited about it. The regular season is fun because of those December, January, and February matchups where guys go out there to prove a point. If Embiid is just playing with business as usual, and not trying to prove anything against a guy like Jokic, then there just isn’t as much fun to be had with the matchup.
However, at the end of the day, it is just a random game in December. We want Embiid to go out there and prove a point, but he doesn’t have to. He’s having a perfectly fine season and the Sixers are playing perfectly okay basketball. Do we want them to be better? Absolutely, but unfortunately, the most amount of effort you’ll see on a basketball court is in April and May, not November and December. It’s unfortunate, but Embiid doesn’t need to do more than is necessary right now.
That said, Embiid is known for being the kind of player that takes something like this to heart and does go out there to prove a point. He loves to talk trash and win grudge matches, and has already said he’s struggling to deal with the balance of keeping his edge while trying to act more mature. We’ll have to keep an eye on how he plays from here on out. If he agrees that he’s not trying hard enough then we could be on to something big here. A really fun stretch of basketball.