- Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print.
This week, we explore a tasty subplot in New Orleans, serious issues in Golden State, Aleksej Pokusevski and the Thunder coming into focus — and why there’s so little juice surrounding a ridiculous Joel Embiid.
1. The monumental Joel Embiid lifting a sloggy offense
You could watch basketball for 30 years and not see five two-way performances as dominant as Embiid’s 59-point, seven-block masterpiece against the Utah Jazz on Sunday.
On some of those blocks, Embiid traversed enormous distances but somehow began those rotations the moment ball handlers put their heads down — so they didn’t see Embiid coming, or register that he had left someone open. The combination of speed, timing, and ferocity is almost unparalleled in NBA history. It was jaw-dropping.
Against pick-and-rolls, he planted himself between ball handler and roller — on his toes, arms spread, a threat to snuff any shot or pass. He ignored fakes. Utah’s ball handlers either froze, or made desperate decisions. From what is normally a position of vulnerability — one player guarding two — Embiid bent the game to his will.
And yet I felt almost equal parts awe and pity watching him drag the Sixers to a close win. Without James Harden, Philly seems to have zero plan on offense other than to walk the ball up, toss it to Embiid, and pray.
Oh, sure, sometimes they run stuff. They just don’t run it with much conviction. Tyrese Maxey is a decent playmaker, but he’s not quite ready to orchestrate over 48 minutes.
A few Sixers execute stray, half-hearted cuts around Embiid. They are not cutting to score. They are cutting to get out of the way. There is no juice. Everything is way too hard.
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