Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers
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Philadelphia 76ers public address announcer Matt Cord has a catchphrase for Joel Embiid's assists. Every time the big fella drops a dime over the course of a contest, Cord utters the following four words to the capacity crowd in the Wells Fargo Center: "The feed from Embiid." It's a catchy phrase and one that fans in Philadelphia have been hearing quite often lately, as Embiid has elevated his playmaking to another level this season.  

Embiid was a stud from the second that he stepped on an NBA court, but early on in his career, he was pretty pedestrian as a passer. At least, that's the area where there was obvious room for improvement. Passing was probably the least developed aspect of Embiid's game during his first few years with the Sixers.

As a rookie during the 2016-17 season, Embiid averaged just 2.1 assists per performance, while simultaneously turning the ball over 3.8 times per game -- not an ideal ratio, to say the least. He had a tendency to overdribble, and he was easily flustered by pressure. Those traits led to turnovers. Plus, there was a learning curve when it came to reading NBA defenses. That season, Embiid had an assist percentage -- or percentage of his teammates' scored field goals while he was on the floor -- of 16. 

During his second season, Embiid's assists per game rose up to 3.2 -- an improvement that was indicative of a slowly improving feel for the game. However, his turnovers per game remained high (3.7), thanks largely to his early struggles with the double-teams that were increasingly being sent his way. Embiid was often slow to recognize oncoming doubles, and in turn, he struggled to react to them. He often would try to dribble out of them, or force passes that weren't there. He just wasn't a threat as a passer. 

Fast forward to the current campaign, and Embiid is enjoying what has been, by far, his best season from a passing perspective. He's averaging a career-high 4.4 assists per game, coupled with a career-low of 2.9 turnovers. His assist percentage has shot up to 25, which means that he's assisting on a quarter of all of his teammates' baskets when he's on the floor, while his turnover percentage has dropped to a respectable 10.8 -- easily the lowest of his career.

Improvements in several areas have allowed Embiid to make such a major leap in the passing department this season. First, there's his continually growing comfort against double teams. He started to handle them much better last season, and he has only improved in that area this year. Rather than being reactionary, Embiid now expects, and even actively welcomes, additional defenders from all angles, knowing that those doubles open things up tremendously for his teammates. 

Take this play from a game between the Sixers and Spurs in January. Embiid catches the ball in the mid-post, and he's immediately double-teamed on the catch by Spurs guard Bryn Forbes, who has cheated off of Matisse Thybulle in the weakside corner. Embiid realizes where the double came from and looks for Thybulle, who smartly cut to the basket for an easy dunk. 

A very similar play occurred a quarter later. The outcome was exactly the same, but Embiid added a lit bit of flair to his delivery to Thybulle this time.

Embiid wasn't making reads like this early in his career. There are a ton of clips that could have been pulled to illustrate his improvement against double teams, and the truth is that the raw assist numbers don't fully do justice to his improvement in that area. He picks up a lot of hockey assists thanks sheerly to his gravity and willingness to move the ball, and those don't show up in traditional box scores. 

Double-teaming Embiid used to be detrimental to the Sixers offense, and that is no longer the case. Now it's a "proceed at your own risk" proposition for opposing teams. 

In addition to his handling of doubles, improved ballhandling has also contributed to Embiid's development as a playmaker. His handle has tightened significantly, and this has helped him become even more lethal as a scorer. He routinely faces up and takes slower big men off of the dribble, and his pull-up jumper has become virtually unstoppable. As a result, Embiid is the NBA's most effective center when it comes to producing points off of the dribble this season.

The Void with Kevin O'Connor

The tightened handle has also helped Embiid become a more dangerous passer, as he now feels emboldened to make plays off of the dribble, like this one he made against the Washington Wizards in order to set Georges Niang up with an open layup.

Embiid has long maintained that he has always wanted to be a point guard, and he certainly looks like one on plays like that. His passing portfolio has also expanded to include serving as a facilitator in pick-and-roll scenarios as the roll man -- a role that Draymond Green has made a career out of in Golden State. 

In the following play against San Antonio, Embiid sets a screen for Tyrese Maxey and quickly rolls to the paint. The big man receives the pass and takes a gigantic gather step toward the basket in order to draw in defenders, including Derrick White, who was guarding Furkan Korkmaz. Embiid then quickly fires a pass to an open Korkmaz in the corner, who proceeds to knock down a 3-pointer.

Before that play materialized, Embiid had directed Korkmaz to that corner, knowing that if the play was executed properly, the sharpshooter would have an open look, as he did. Embiid's ability to manipulate defenses and then make them pay with pinpoint passes this season has been truly impressive and is indicative of a player with a burgeoning basketball IQ.

Embiid has also nearly perfected the crosscourt post pass -- an extremely dangerous weapon for any post player to have in his arsenal. In the past when Embiid tried this pass, accuracy was an issue, as the ball would often be deflected, or wind up in the second row. Now though, Embiid makes the pass with timing and accuracy. Check out how he set up Isaiah Joe with an open weakside 3-pointer before Washington's defense even had time to react: 

Given these improvements he's made as a passer, it's no surprise that Embiid has emerged as the MVP favorite this season, as his game is now virtually flawless, especially on the offensive end. It has taken a while, but Embiid has finally learned how to leverage the attention that he consistently generates to empower his teammates, and he and the Sixers are both infinitely more dangerous because of it.