Something’s eating Joel Embiid. The 76ers center has seen a recent dip in form, with a string of mediocre performances that are a far cry from the MVP-like numbers he was putting up towards the beginning of the season. Over his last three games, he’s shot just 14-for-42 (1-for-9 from three), with his worst game of the year so far happening on Wednesday against the Raptors. Embiid shot 5-for-17 from the field, tying a season-low of 10 points—though he still managed 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Likely thinking that his center could use a much-needed break, coach Brett Brown gave Embiid the night off during Friday’s game against the Detroit Pistons for some “rest.” However, as Embiid told Philly.com’s Keith Pompey, it’s not the exhaustion that’s been getting to the big man as of late, it’s frustration.
“I haven’t been myself lately,” said Embiid, who was held out of Friday’s game against the Pistons by coach Brett Brown. “I think it’s mainly because of the way I’ve been used, which is I’m being used as a spacer, I guess, a stretch five, which I’m only shooting  percent” from three-point range.
“But it seems like the past couple games, like with the way I play, our setup, [Brown] always has me starting on the perimeter … and it just really frustrates me. My body feels great, and it’s just I haven’t been playing well.”
The numbers justify Embiid’s irritation. Over his last 11 games, his points per game have dropped from 28.2 to 23.8, his field goal percentage has dropped from 48.4 to 43.1, his three-point percentage has dropped from 30.2 to 27.3, and his free throw attempts have dropped from 11.1 to 8.7.
The stats aren’t the only thing that have seen change since then. On Nov. 11, the Sixers traded for noted Karl-Anthony Towns emasculator Jimmy Butler, and, by most accounts, it’s been a relatively successful move. The team has gone 9-3 since Butler’s first game with the team and are tied for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. But there appears to have been some growing pains with the move. Pompey notes that Philly’s offensive strategy to start the season focused on Embiid bullying his way into the paint for easy buckets, and free throw attempts. With the addition of Butler, a player who thrives on slashing to the rim, the team has had to get away from the original strategy so that their new player can get his shots off. Embiid, and Brown’s, ability to find a balance to this attack will take time, but for now it’s just resulted taking a star player out of his comfort zone and putting him in an area of the court where he’s a below-average shooter.
Embiid did emphasize that his frustration is focused on his performances, and not on Butler. That being said, the center’s comments could hint at potential problems down the road if the two stars can’t play together. The Sixers brought in Butler because the team is in win-now mode and now they face the same level of urgency to solve this problem for that reason. Time will tell if the franchise is equipped to handle both sets of those concerns.