The 2018 offseason was a whirlwind of emotions for Sixers fans. The organization was unable to come through on their star-hunt, leaving people to wonder whether or not this team would go further than they did in the 2017-18 playoffs.
They have Jimmy Butler now, but once that star-hunting dream failed to become a reality in the offseason, focus turned to the team they had. Joel Embiid had a healthy summer, Ben Simmons would be one league-year wiser, and former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz was supposed to get healthy.
Both Embiid and Fultz spent a majority of their offseason training with NBA skills coach, Drew Hanlen. After Joel worked with him in previous years, Fultz joined the Pure Sweat crew in 2018, hoping to rebuild his broken shot.
Fultz Saga Continues
We thought we were getting a healthy Markelle Fultz to start the season. Hanlen teased Fultz’s improved shot, and sure, there was some progression from his rookie year. Unfortunately, Markelle still had issues with his jump shot.
You know the story by now. In November, Fultz’s hesitation to shoot became more obvious and his form regressed. Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype reported that Fultz and Hanlen were no longer on speaking terms. Shortly after that, Fultz’s agent recommended that the former top pick should go see specialists for his shoulder issue. Markelle was then diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. He spent time in L.A. doing physical therapy and is now back in Philly to continue rehab.
There was never much more said about the relationship between Fultz and Hanlen. During an appearance on the HoopsHype podcast with Alex Kennedy, Hanlen briefly touched on the situation.
“Legally, I can’t say anything. I wish I could. The only thing I really can say is that nothing happened between he and I personally. I’m still rooting for him. I think he’s going to be special once he comes back full speed.”
Sixers head coach Brett Brown said prior to the team’s four-game road trip out west that Fultz was still just doing physical therapy. There is still no timetable for a return. Markelle’s $8.3 million salary for next season could be useful in trade talks, though. Many believe that we won’t see Fultz suit up for the Sixers again. Guess we’ll continue to play the waiting game!
Embiid’s Hard Work Paying Dividends
Every now and then, it’s fun to go back and remember Joel Embiid’s journey. At 24 years of age, Embiid started playing basketball just nine years ago. He went through injury rehab after injury rehab to start his NBA career. JoJo missed 215 games over his first three seasons, yet he still has more All-Star selections than the rest of the 2014 NBA Draft class combined. Crazy stuff.
Over the past couple of offseasons, Embiid has worked with Drew Hanlen. Needless to say, whatever he’s doing with him is working. Joel is putting together another monster season, posting averages of 27.2 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 47 games.
Who knew he was going to be this good? Perhaps Joel himself knew. Drew Hanlen recalled one of his first conversations with Embiid before the two paired up. At that point, he could tell Joel was going to be something special.
I remember the first conversations we ever had, I asked him what his goal was and he immediately said, ‘I want to be an all-time great and in the Hall of Fame” whereas most players I ask them about their goals and they immediately go to points per game the following seasons. I just think he has a special gift to learn and pick-up.
If you’ve heard Embiid talk about how he learned to play basketball, he talks about watching white dudes on the internet. While that may be true, the Sixers big man also mimics NBA greats like Hakeem Olajuwon with a lot of his moves. One of the things that Hanlen talked about at length was Embiid’s ability to learn quickly.
There’s times where I show him a clip or we’ll do something in a workout and sure enough, the next game, he’ll be using that exact thing. Not many people can translate work after the games right away, but he has that special ability to do so.
Last season, Joel seemed to be an every-man. He wanted to do everything on the court from shooting threes to guarding smaller players on the perimeter. This year, though, the focus for Joel has been dominating in the low post. He’s been doing just that. Embiid ranks seventh in the league in touches (85.9) and third in post-ups per game (10.6).
He’s been really good in the areas that he worked on and focused on this summer. He wanted to get back to dominating the low block and his isolation play has been really, really good down low. He’s been passing out of double teams a lot better, his turnover rate is down, his assist rate is up.
Joel’s assist-to-turnover ratio has gone from 0.56 to 0.85 to 1.02 through his three seasons in the league to this point. His assist percentage is up from last season, and his turnover ratio is down to 11.7 from 13.8.
Everything that Joel Embiid has done this season puts him in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. He affects the game so much on both sides of the floor and changes the dynamic of the game in so many ways. The addition of Jimmy Butler has put Joel in some situations he doesn’t love, but in the end, winning is most important.
He’s a guy that prioritizes winning, which is why he can be so hard on the defensive end. Offensively, you’ve seen him try to grow and improve just because he doesn’t want to let his teammates down.
He’s put in a lot of hard work and he’s getting the results for himself and his team. He’s the best big in the league, and I think that he’s going to be a guy that you hear in the MVP conversation for years to come.
In between your daily dose of fire Brett Brown takes and endless hours of ESPN’s trade machine, just take some time and realize how lucky we are to have a player like Joel Embiid on our team…representing our city.