Big men often end up passengers. The great ones put the game where it stands with two minutes to play, but they often spend crunchtime at the periphery of the action, setting screens at the arc, skulking in the corner, calling from the packed post like a body subsumed by a wave, a bobbing arm that merely suggests the rest of the person. Meanwhile, the guards and wings decide the rest of the tilt.
Except in Philadelphia, they don’t have any star guards, their wings range from skittish to downright useless in the closing possessions. So they dump the ball to Joel Embiid as close to the bucket as he can catch it, which is usually about 16 feet, and he tries to do the things that Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo do, MVP- and title-winning versions of Dirk Nowitzki. He doesn’t realize this ambition. He turns it over a lot, whirling into double-teams or exploding rimward and leaving the ball behind. He takes really tough jumpers—turnarounds, baseline faders—he cannot hit with the consistency, sorry, of a generational shooting talent. It doesn’t seem like he should be able to make it work from 16 feet, and he kind of doesn’t. Hardly anyone blames him for this. He’s just describing the limits of what a fella his size can do, at that remove. You can’t make seven feet and 280 pounds dance between the raindrops, that is one of the few things Joel Embiid can’t do. And yet there he is, some pivotal Game 3, gassed in the spotlight, sharing the court with four ghosts and five defenders. Alright Joel, do the impossible. Clank.
You think Ben Simmons might have pissed him off? A potential late-game pick and roll partner, a slash-and-kicker, a rim-attacker, an off-the-dribble creator, a double team splitter, even just a spot-up option.