What if I told you that 28 points and 13 rebounds were not Joel Embiid’s most valuable contributions to the Sixers?
What if I told you that according to Brett Brown and the Sixers, Joel Embiid is “Batman”?
We are going to be a defensive minded team where we push up, so sometimes you might get beat. So someone like myself will come help out” – Norvelle Pelle on PFO’s Buttoned Up podcast
So what is the Batman role in the Sixers’ defense? Well essentially it is the free safety who can cover and clean up penetration at the rim. This safety net of having a quick, decisive, and elite rim protector allows the Sixers to switch everything 1-4 and also press up to the three point line.
We pride ourselves on defending the rim and the three point line….Going into games, that is what we want. We want teams to take long twos and tonight they made a lot of them.” – Joel Embiid on how the team wants to play Defense
And the numbers very much bear this strategy out. The expected value on a midrange jumper equates to roughly 0.81 points per shot versus 1.256 PPS for shots at the rim and 1.08 points per shot from three point range. This is sound fundamental defensive scheme. But let’s look at it in practice.
Example 1 – The Swoop
Markelle Fultz in the clip below on Malik Monk. He comes out to contest with his toes on the three point line. He shades slightly to take away the middle which forces Monk to drive outside. Watch Embiid on this clip. Forcing Monk to drive around right give Embiid time to swoop in from the right wing to contest and ultimately block Monk’s layup attempt.
The easy answer is that Markelle played bad defense, but what if he executed his role appropriately, denying middle and the 3.
Example 2 – Pursuit of the middle penetration
Here is a clip of Joel making a quick decision to switch off of Boban and chase down the guard for a block off a pick and roll. Redick gets taken out of the play entirely, but Embiid plays the penetration perfectly.
Example 3 – Denying Middle
Again, Fultz denies middle while pressing against the line. Watch Embiid recover and help for the block. Denying middle is vital to giving him the angle and time to make this play.
Example 4 – Sacrificing the Center corner three
Here, Embiid leaves Baynes open in the corner when Brown gets middle past Simmons. Embiid camps in the lane to meet Brown at the rim. This decision is what led to so many Baynes open corner three attempts in the playoffs, and watching Embiid’s decision illuminates why those shots were a pick your poison option.
And finally, one more, look at how the action is intended to tie Embiid up at the free throw line as Lou Williams beats Markelle to the right. Embiid has a laser focus on the ball handler and fights through to meet Williams at the rim.
When you look at the NBA, most teams are trying to take the highest efficiency shots. There is no secret to the Philadelphia 76ers’ philosophy around scheme. Attack and protect the paint, and stretch and defend the 3 point line. Efficiency differential is king when it comes to the 76ers’ game plan. The press and no middle combined with Embiid’s ability to protect the rim create a situation where the best shots a team can take tend to be off the dribble pull-ups in the midrange. Those are the empty spots in the D, and the team relies on the numbers – and in the long run, they can live with the results.
This scheme, however, only works when you have a big man capable of being a superhero and come to the rescue when Gotham is invaded.