From looking at the box score after the Sixers’ 108-94 victory over the Hornets, Joel Embiid stood out.
He finished with a game-high 25 points and 19 rebounds. But there was also a stain next to his name: a game-high nine turnovers.
Embiid averages the 16th-most touches in the NBA, and only four of the top 15 score more per touch than he does: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokoumnpo, Damian Lillard, and James Harden. So the fact that Embiid averages the fifth-most turnovers in the league is not surprising or really that disturbing.
On nights when Embiid commits eight or nine turnovers, Sixers coach Brett Brown thinks of two things: Embiid’s age, and his limited participation in workouts.
There’s no way to speed up time or, as Brown likes to say, “expedite the birth certificate” of his young squad. It’s easy to forget that Embiid is just 24 and playing his first full season of professional basketball. His numbers give off the impression that he is more than seasoned.
Additionally, Embiid is not taking part in every non-game workout.
“Look at what he does without really practicing much or doing shootarounds much,” Brown said Monday night. “I’m shocked to look down and see 25 and 19. We’re trying to do our best to deliver him to a playoff situation.”
So in the spirit of preservation, the Sixers have pulled back on off-day practices, and in collaboration with the medical staff, Embiid does not take part in game-day shootarounds.
It’s not just preservation of Embiid that has the Sixers taking a conservative approach to what they do outside of games. Brown is admittedly worried about the lack of playoff experience on his young team. The best way to combat that, he says, is with health, spirit, and form.
“If you can arrive at a playoff ticking those three boxes — they’re healthy, they’re cocky and their spirits are up, and they’re playing good basketball — I like our chances,” Brown said. “I think we can go into the playoffs and be something a little bit unique.”
Under those circumstances, though, practice days have been few and far between. But the notion that Embiid is able to impact a game at the level he does, without getting extra time on the court with his teammates, makes Brown hopeful for the future.
“He’s going to be off-the-charts special and off-the-charts good when he gets into a true basketball life,” Brown said.
With just 13 games left in the regular season, the Sixers are looking for more ways to keep their star player ready for the postseason, including the possibility of resting him in one of the final games. That rest could come Wednesday when the Sixers host the Grizzlies, or Thursday when they play in Orlando on the second night of a back-to-back.
The restrained approach with Embiid won’t last long, though. He is competitive by nature, and his voice carries a lot of weight in the decisions that concern his time on the court. He’s already exceeded expectations as far as practice time, minutes played, and availability, so in future years, he will no doubt continue to exceed expectations.
“There was a stretch before the all-star break that I was pretty much doing everything,” Embiid said. “I’ve been able to do quite a bit.”
Increased availability in practice, Brown hopes, will give Embiid a more fluid approach and help things fall into place when the feel of the game comes even more naturally.
Until then, Brown reminds himself and everyone else that, right now, Embiid is already great and going to get only better.
“We should all be thrilled that he’s ours and that he’s having the season that he’s having, with the knowledge that watch out and look what he can be,” the coach said.