Monday, July 22, 2024

Joel Embiid’s USA Basketball debut, explained: 76ers star underwhelms vs. Canada in Olympic exhibition game | Sporting News Australia

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Joel Embiid’s time in a USA Basketball uniform could have gotten off to a better start.

In an exhibition win over Canada, Embiid failed to fully make his presence felt, finishing with five points, six rebounds, two assists and four turnovers before fouling out in 12 minutes. It was a far cry from the expectations for Embiid, who was placed into Team USA’s starting unit for his national team debut.

Why did Embiid struggle against Canada? Here’s more on his performance in America’s first basketball exhibition.

MORE: Team USA’s oldest men’s basketball team starts a bit slow in exhibition opener

Joel Embiid’s USA Basketball debut, explained

Embiid’s decision to join Team USA was a big one, as he opted to represent America rather than Cameroon or host country France, a country for which he also holds citizenship.

Months after last suiting up for the 76ers, the expectation was for Embiid to have recovered from an injury-riddled season and to be the difference-maker on the interior for Team USA.

Embiid was looked upon to impose his will against a Canada team that lacks size outside of starting center Dwight Powell and reserve bigs Khem Birch and Kelly Olynyk. From the onset of the exhibition, it was clear that Embiid would have a tough time doing so.

Team USA attempted to establish Embiid early on by giving the big man touches on the perimeter and in the post. In the game’s first few minutes, Embiid couldn’t connect from distance before failing to convert on a few looks from the post.

Some viewers quickly pointed out that Embiid’s early back-to-the-basket struggles resulted from his tendency to initiate contact and rely on the whistle to get to the line.

Embiid struggled with physicality in the opener as well — not necessarily the physicality of Canada or the FIBA game, but how he could (and couldn’t) impose his physicality on his opponent.

Listed at 7-foot, 280 pounds, Embiid will be one of the most physically imposing athletes at the Olympics. An inability to harness that resulted in his picking up five fouls in 12 minutes — another adjustment from the six fouls that lead to disqualification in the NBA.

An early inability to find a rhythm resulted in game-long struggles for Embiid.

With the 76ers, Embiid relies heavily on getting to the line and getting out to strong starts. The sample size is small due to his 39 games played, but Embiid’s 10.2 free throws per game and average of 11.4 first-quarter points both led the league in 2023-24.

However brief, the above clips show how Embiid was unable to get to the line and get a rhythm going early, resulting in an uncharacteristic performance for the 2023 MVP.

The good news for Embiid and Team USA is that it was just one game. It’s important to note that he dealt with a myriad of injuries and health issues throughout the 2023-24 season and NBA Playoffs, and that Wednesday’s exhibition was his first action since Game 6 of the NBA Playoffs on May 2.

As Embiid shakes off the rust, expect Team USA to double down on the importance of getting the big man going early. His presence could be the difference on a path to gold that includes Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama, among others.

MORE: It’s clear why Team USA picked Derrick White to replace Kawhi Leonard

Joel Embiid stats vs. Canada

  • Minutes played: 12
  • Points: 5
  • Rebounds: 6
  • Assists: 2
  • Steals: 0
  • Blocks: 0
  • Turnovers: 4
  • FG: 2-5 (40.0%)
  • 3FG: 0-1 (0.0%)
  • FT: 1-2 (50.0%)
  • Fouls: 5

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