NBA news: Doubling Joel Embiid, Draymond’s stomp, Grizzlies without Ja

Apr 17, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) controls the ball against Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton (33) during the third quarter in game two of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) controls the ball against Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton (33) during the third quarter in game two of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

In today’s NBA news, we look at how Joel Embiid is powering the 76ers, Draymond Green’s infamous stomp and how the Grizzlies survive without Ja Morant.

After a 96-84 win in Game 2, the Philadelphia 76ers seem firmly in control of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. Their defense has been stifling, they’re shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc and the Nets haven’t been able to do anything with Joel Embiid.

Joel Embiid has become a master of busting the double-team

According to the NBA’s CourtOptix stats, Joel Embiid was doubled about 15.5 times per game during the regular season, about 35.8 percent of his possessions. That’s down significantly from last season when he was doubled about 18.0 times per game, about 46.5 percent of his possessions. Some of that decline is because the 76ers have used him so much more often in the pick-and-roll this season, pulling him off the low block and often getting him touches around the free-throw line and in the middle of the floor. It’s much more difficult to double him effectively in that zone because he has more room to operate and more available passing angles.

Selective doubling has to be part of Brooklyn’s defensive strategy to deal with Embiid considering their general small ball lineups and the 65ish-pound weight advantage Embiid has over Nic Claxton their starting center.

As Game 2 went along, they became more aggressive in doubling Embiid on the catch, instead of waiting for him to make his first move, and he absolutely picked them apart. Watch how quickly he reads the weakside double as he turns here, and immediately gets the ball to Tyrese Maxey for the driving layup.

Or here, at the end of the first half, where he calmly takes a few extra dribbles and draws three defenders before finding the cutting De’Anthony Melton under the basket.

Embiid might not get as much credit for his offensive versatility as Nikola Jokic but his combination of passing, ball-handling and shooting is still unbelievably rare. The game clock is a factor here, but we’re talking about a 7-foot center drawing three defenders at the 3-point line because of his triple-threat ability.

As things rolled into the third quarter we saw the 76ers become even more intentional about leveraging those double teams. Watch Mikal Bridges briefly lose Tobias Harris here on the baseline as P.J. Tucker, whose man left to double Embiid, screens for him.

And again, here, Embiid has the presence of mind to look off the cutting Paul Reed and find Tyrese Maxey in the opposite corner, despite two defenders aggressively in his face.

And sometimes those passes to the corner ended up as hockey assists, like here as P.J. Tucker draws the closeout and then finds Tobias Harris alone in the paint for a dunk.

We don’t have CourtOptix stats available for playoffs but it’s worth noting that Embiid was statistically more effective at handling double-teams this year. The 76ers averaged 1.21 points per possession anytime he was doubled — more than when Harden was doubled, the Mavericks with Luka Doncic doubled, or the Blazers when Damian Lillard was doubled.

He’s still doing damage as a scorer and shooter from those elbow and top-of-the-key touches but he’s also been absolutely fantastic as a passer. Through the first two games of this series, he’s averaging 5.0 assists, 9.0 potential assists and 2.5 secondary (hockey) assists per game. Those are up from 4.0, 6.3 and 0.7, respectively in the regular season. It’s also worth highlighting that 1.4 secondary assists per game was the mark that led the league this season.

This is an outlier reflection of a major evolution in Embiid’s game over the past few years. The Nets were probably always going to be overmatched in this series, but seeing them be dissected in this specific way should be at least a little worrying for the rest of the East.

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Draymond Green does Draymond Green stuff

There’s almost no way you haven’t seen the video by now, and I’m going to assume most of you already have your opinions formed. On the off chance you haven’t, Domantas Sabonis was knocked to the floor chasing a rebound after colliding with Klay Thompson, he rolls into Draymond Green’s legs and appears to “grab” (I’m not sure this is the right word since it implies a certain amount of intention and force that I didn’t really see) one of them. Draymond pulls his leg free and stomps on Sabonis’ chest before heading back up court.

Sabonis was assessed a Flagrant 1. Green was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected. Still no word yet on whether he’ll be suspended. Sabonis had to have chest X-rays, which were negative. Green claims he needed an ankle X-ray because of soreness from Sabonis “grabbing” him.

I don’t really have anything else to say here other than, to me, Sabonis’ conduct did not look egregious and Draymond’s absolutely did. I am also more inclined to give Sabonis the benefit of the doubt because I’ve never seen video of him punching a teammate in the face at practice, kicking or hitting an opponent in the testicles, raking an opponent’s face on a layup attempt, pulling an opponent to the ground with an arm lock, kicking an opponent in the back, face or chest.

But maybe I just don’t watch enough Kings games.

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How will the Grizzlies score without Ja Morant?

It’s not yet clear if Ja Morant will be available for Game 2 against the Lakers Wednesday night but it seems like there’s a very good chance he’ll be out of the lineup after injuring his hand in Game 1. Tyus Jones is one of the best backup point guards in the NBA but the team’s offense absolutely runs differently when he’s been forced into the starting lineup.

Morant missed 21 games this season, one of which Jones also sat, which means we have a decent sample for comparison. I was able to put together an offensive style chart that shows how the Grizzlies’ offense functioned in the 20 games with Jones starting in place of Morant, compared to the season as a whole, with regard to shot selection, ball movement, player movement and pace.

The Grizzlies’ offense has actually been much more efficient in games Jones has started, although take the results with a grain of salt — just three of the games he started came against the other nine teams with a top-10 defense. However, you can see how the Grizzlies adjust to Morant’s absence, with a lot more movement of players and the ball and a generically superior shot selection.

Game 2 will come down to making shots for the Grizzlies, but they at least have experience adjusting to Morant’s absence, with a track record of offensive success and some comfortable and identifiable changes in their offensive style.

Today’s NBA Trivia:

The Suns have beaten the Clippers the only two teams they’ve ever met in the playoffs — in 2021 and 2006. Who was the leading scorer for each team in each of those previous series?

The answer for yesterday’s trivia question: On Aug. 20, 2020, in the NBA Bubble, the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers 111-88 with just 10 points from LeBron James. That is the fewest points he’s ever scored in a postseason win.

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