Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid spoke to reporters about how his role has changed since the trade for Jimmy Butler earlier this season.
Embiid hinted at why he believes he has struggled recently (via Philly.com):
“I haven’t been myself lately. I think it’s mainly because of the way I’ve been used, which is I’m being used as a spacer, I guess, a stretch-five… But it seems like the past couple games, like with the way I play, our setup, [head coach Brett Brown] always has me starting on the perimeter… and it just really frustrates me. My body feels great, and it’s just I haven’t been playing well.”
Considering his scoring and his field goal percentage are down since the trade, we first looked at his overall usage rate. Before the trade, he led the team with a 30.9 percent usage rate. But in the games since then, it’s been nearly identical at 31.3 percent.
He has received 3.0 passes per game from Butler. For comparison, former teammate Robert Covington passed the ball to Embiid just 2.4 times per game this season before he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Butler deal.
But it’s worth noting that Embiid’s complaint was specifically about the way he has been used in Philadelphia’s offense since the trade. Specifically, he believes he would be more effective if he was able to spend more time near the rim than on the perimeter.
He has simply been less efficient, averaging 0.65 points per paint touch. He averaged 0.82 points per paint touch to start the season. Embiid will likely return to form once he has more rest, as he’s typically dominant when he has the ball in the paint. He says he isn’t tired, but his play suggests otherwise.
Noah Levick wrote about what this all means for the team moving forward (via NBC Sports):
“While the Sixers would do well to incorporate more actions into their offense involving Embiid and Butler, Embiid’s comments don’t mean the duo is doomed to fail, or that Embiid will forever be a less effective player with Butler around… If Embiid can knock down a few more of the shots he typically hits and break out of his mini-slump, you’d expect his frustration about how he’s being used to dissipate.”
Even though his comments indicate he is more frustrated with his starting place on the perimeter, it’s clear that Embiid is still getting plenty of chances to finish possessions in the paint since the team added Butler.
He has simply been less effective in recent games. It’s worth noting that another Philadelphia-based writer, Michael Kaskey, reports that Embiid is upset with the report suggesting he’s unhappy his role.
A player’s of Embiid caliber should return to form soon, so this isn’t a big issue for the Sixers, especially since the center is pushing back against the initial report. In time, Embiid will likely get back to dominating down low and Philly will focus on contending.