Throughout their first four games, the 76ers find themselves in 9th place of the Eastern Conference with a 2-2 record. Philadelphia’s season has been off to a dramatic and rocky start. Despite the everlasting Ben Simmons saga, the 76ers have maintained a .500 record. However, their play has been extremely far from flawless. 

Pick & Roll/Perimeter Defense

As expected, the 76ers are a significantly worse defensive team without DPOY candidate Ben Simmons. His absence is felt most on perimeter defense and on both ends of transition play.

Defensively, Philadelphia has been unable to guard the pick-and-roll. As a result, teams are getting to the basket or shooting with extreme ease. Frequently, teams have used high screens to take the Philadelphia guard out of the play. This either creates an open look from three, or a mismatch where the opposing guard can quickly get to the rim.

Additionally, the 76ers’ guards have been unable to contain crafty guards such as Nickeil Alexander-Walker, James Harden, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, nor Kemba Walker. Philadelphia’s perimeter defenders often find themself getting torched, due to lack of shifting and positioning. Specifically, guards Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry have been struggling the most in this regard. 

Initiation of The Offense

Without a true point guard to bring the ball up and initiate the offense, Doc Rivers took a different approach. 

Often this season, Joel Embiid has directed the offense from the top of the key. This hasn’t worked too well mainly because passing/court vision aren’t Embiid’s strengths. It has also left PG Tyrese Maxey in confusion, as he’s constantly in the dunker’s spot motionless. Moreover, Embiid’s decision-making when getting doubled leaves much to be desired. The MVP candidate has shown flashes of improved passing, specifically in the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He contributed 6 assists and not a single turnover. 

Running the offense through the bigs would be better with Andre Drummond, which it has been. The Big Penguin is one of the better passing centers, but at times his passes are a bit too enthusiastic. In addition to his passing, Drummond is very good at finding backdoor cutters. 

Joel Embiid’s Sub-Par Play

This season, many were expecting Joel Embiid’s offensive numbers to thrive because of the improved floor spacing. Though other factors come into play, Embiid has plainly underperformed offensively.

On the season, Joel Embiid is averaging 21.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 5.0 APG. A pleasant surprise is Embiid’s increased volume of passing, but as previously stated it’s a work in progress. Efficiency-wise, he’s shooting 46.8% from the field, a surprising 46.2% from three, and has a TS% of 57.4 (2.6 above league average). From a stat perspective Embiid’s all around numbers and efficiency look fine, but the eye test contradicts this.

It’s worth mentioning that Joel Embiid has been struggling with right knee soreness for the entirety of this fresh NBA season. It’s a big possibility that this inconvenience is inhibiting Embiid’s play. However, his decision-making hasn’t been good, especially in the New York Knicks game. Against the Knicks the star big committed 5 TOs. Most of these turnovers were pure stupidity, bad awareness, and a lack of urgency. 

Furthermore, Embiid has increased his three-point attempts. This would be a far bigger issue if he wasn’t shooting 46.2% from beyond. However, an Embiid three isn’t an ideal possession. Last season the star center focused on dominating down low and utilizing his post game. In turn, he finished 2nd in MVP voting. To simply put it, Embiid needs to be more aggressive inside the arc, as the offense is much better with him doing so. With the big fella in the post, he attracts double-teams leaving an open man, forces off-ball movement, and his ability to score in the post is borderline unstoppable.

Joel Embiid’s knee soreness may be holding him back from being his dominant self, but his IQ needs to be better for the 76ers to function. Conclusively, Embiid will undoubtedly bounce back from this rough stretch and return to form.