Joel Embiid said Monday at Philadelphia media day high expectations this season: He wants the Sixers to win 60 or more games, and he wants to be in the running for awards such as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
For any of that to happen, he has to play in more than the 64 games he did last season — and he knows it. Last season, after a heavy workload to start the season, he played through knee pain the second half and it slowed him. Then he got sick in the playoffs. Embiid felt he let his teammates — and the city of Philadelphia — down, and he knew taking better care of his body had to be the next step in his game.
Embiid said Monday that he had dropped 20 pounds and is in the best shape he’s ever been in, but he has yet to reach his weight loss goal. While a lot of players talk about weight gained or lost during the summer, there were a lot of eyes around the league watching Embiid on this front — conditioning and health were about the only thing slowing him down. Embiid was dominant when on the court, but he missed 18 games, and if he plays more with less pain, then Philadelphia is an even bigger threat.
Embiid gets it, he said he knows his availability is critical for the Sixers to take the next leap. From Noah Levick at NBC Sports Philadelphia:
“I feel like my focus when it comes to being in the gym, taking care of my body, making sure I’m strong — I feel like it’s been on another level the whole summer. I’ve definitely been more focused than ever because I feel like if I take care of that stuff, basketball is going to be easier, I guess. …
“I can’t accomplish winning 60 games or Defensive Player of the Year if I don’t take care of my body. So, I think the main thing is just adopting a new mindset, a different mindset, when it comes to taking care of my body. And the rest is going to take care of itself.”
There will still be — and needs to be — load management with Embiid. Early last season Embiid led the league in minutes played, and he was on the court in 54 of the Sixers’ first 58 games. That took a toll. He was out more down the stretch battling knee pain. This season, expect a smarter, more balanced approach from the Sixers, although Embiid would not put an exact number on how many games he wants to play.
“We had some type of load management specialist come in to just figure out all the math and analytics,” he said. “And then we just figured out together what’s best for me and the way to do it. If I remember correctly, last year from the beginning I played a lot of minutes and it might’ve affected me, so this year we’ve gotta have a different approach.”
It’s all a new process for Embiid. When he was on the court last season, the Sixers outscored opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions, with a big jump on both ends of the floor. In the playoffs it was even more dramatic, in a dozen games the Sixers were +42.4 with him on the court (there’s a lot of noise in that number, he played a lot with Jimmy Butler and the Sixers bench struggled mightily).
Talk to people around the league about the Sixers chances and you hear Embiid getting in better shape and being both on the court more and healthy was the next step to title contention (even more than Ben Simmons finding a jump shot). If Embiid has done that, if the Sixers have figured out a load management program to maximize what he can do, the East — and the rest of the league — should be worried.
Now he just has to prove all this is more than words.