Brett Brown: Joel Embiid Is ‘Shaquille O'Neal With Soccer Feet,' and He's Growing Up

During his time as head coach of the Sixers, Brett Brown has answered plenty of questions regarding the medical status of his players. At a luncheon with members of the media Wednesday in Center City, he announced that he's done with those questions.

"I'm not the person that should be [answering]," he said. "It's not my place anymore. … You're all trying to do your jobs and I understand that completely, but it's just not going to be my place this year."

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It's a change that probably should have been made years ago. Brown is the head coach of the Sixers, not a medical expert, and expecting him to regularly provide clear updates on medical situations that have often been rather complicated was neither fair nor rational. 

Inevitably, Brown was still asked several questions Wednesday about Joel Embiid, his "crown jewel," and how the Sixers will go about keeping him healthy and in optimal shape for playoff basketball. While he deferred to the Sixers' large team that specializes in that field, headed by new performance director Lorena Torres, a hire from the San Antonio Spurs, and Scott Epsley, officially promoted Wednesday to medical director, Brown didn't mind sharing some of his own thoughts. 

"You go to heavyweights all across the board, you're going to find a plan," he said. "With Joel, there for sure will be a plan and the buy-in now from Joel, because he's so highly competitive and wants to play. I think that comes with age and maturity."

As far as specifics, Brown was perhaps more reticent than usual. He acknowledged Embiid won't play 82 games and said that it will be important to "keep a very intelligent eye on load management." He also confirmed Embiid's statement that the big man has lost 25 pounds this summer and spoke with excitement about his attitude.

He's fired up. He understands the responsibility. This is a partnership. We've done this forever, it seems. If none of us understand that or believe that, go look at his face when the ball goes in [against the Raptors in Game 7]. That's where we're at with Joel. 

Embiid played 54 of the Sixers' first 58 games last season, then missed 14 of the final 24 as he dealt with a lingering knee injury that jeopardized his status throughout the playoffs and forced him to miss Game 3 of the Sixers' first-round series against the Nets. For Embiid to be at or near his best late in the playoffs for a championship-contending team, a similar approach does not seem prudent.

Brown also expressed Wednesday that he cares about Embiid being great for years to come.

I feel personally, when I look at Joel from the position I'm in now after all these years … his legacy, and this is a word I choose, it's not that he's going to have a great year. Legacy is over time. His legacy is something that I desperately want to do my best to help him leave behind. And that always means a championship or championships. And multiple All-Star teams and maybe an MVP and all those things, done within a successful team. He's not on an island - it's a team. Joel's mind and his health, and his attitude and willingness to go with our sports science department, I think, is proportionate to his age. I think he's growing up. I think he understands. It's my job to try to help him do that. 

Embiid, who started his second straight All-Star Game and averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 blocks last season, is still only 25 years old with 158 games of NBA experience. The Sixers had a plus-7.6 net rating when he was on the floor, minus-3.5 when he was off it.

One area of weakness for Embiid was his three-point shooting - he shot 30 percent from long range last year on 4.1 attempts per game. While Brown said he felt "comfortable" with just about all of his players shooting threes, Embiid included, he was adamant about where he wants Embiid to live.

Joel is Shaquille O'Neal with soccer feet. When you look at Joel Embiid, where should his bread be buttered? It ain't close, he should be in the paint. We should get him as many touches as we can deep. You need to hear that word - deep. This is where my thoughts are with Jo. When he comes down in trail and his man is back and he's there, I think that is his money spot, and trail moving into it from that middle corridor. I think statistics would bear that out. That's how I want to use Joel. 

Shaquille O'Neal with soccer feet dominating deep in the paint and knocking down the occasional open three-point shot is some image, and it's a close approximation of where Embiid currently sits. A player with those talents is likely to leave behind a unique, enduring legacy - if he stays healthy. 



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