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Joel Embiid presents difficult test for depleted Nuggets frontcourt

Harrison Wind Avatar
December 5, 2016


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Regular Season Game No. 21 | Denver Nuggets (7-13) at Philadelphia 76ers (4-16)

Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 5:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude


Losers of five out of their last six, the Denver Nuggets face another struggling team, the Philadelphia 76ers who have dropped four in a row Monday night in Philadelphia.

Here’s what to watch for during the second of a six-game road trip:

Embiid’s evolution

Russell Westbrook‘s triple-doubles are exhilarating, James Harden‘s scoring and passing is spectacular, the Warriors can sleep through three-quarters and still find themselves in position to win in the fourth, but no story this NBA season has been more surprising than Joel Embiid‘s path to greatness that’s been laid out over the first quarter of this year.

When he’s played, which he should do Monday night after sitting out Sunday’s loss to Boston, Embiid has been spectacular.

The leading Rookie of the Year candidate is averaging 18.7 points to go with 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game and has played in 13 out of Philadelphia’s 20 games this season. Embiid is also shooting 51.4 percent from 3-point land giving the 76ers an inside and outside threat that’s becoming a staple of the modern NBA big man.

The 76ers recently upped Embiid’s minutes limit to 28 and while his offensive numbers stand out in the boxscore, the 7-foot-2 center does an equally impressive amount of work on the defensive end of the floor. Philadelphia is roughly 12 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Embiid on the floor than they are with him off it.

With Nikola Jokic still sidelined with a sprained left wrist, the Nuggets will need an impactful game from Jusuf Nurkic to contain Embiid.

Getting Gallinari going

A month ago, Michael Malone called Danilo Gallinari‘s play “inconsistent.” Fast forward 16 games and the Nuggets still haven’t found a way to get the Italian going.

In the 17 games he’s played, Gallinari is averaging just 16.5 points, a sharp three-point drop off from the 19.5 he averaged last season and is shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from three, which both are slightly down from last year. Most worrisome is that Gallinari is getting to the line 2.3 times per game less than last season despite playing 1.4 minutes per game more than last year.

It’s difficult to pinpoint Gallinari’s troubles considering his minutes are up and his percentages, while down slightly are roughly the same as last season. Gallinari’s isolations per game are also slightly down, but the main culprit of the 28-year-old’s struggles seem to be his inability to get to the line in isolation, which was his bread and butter last season.


But how does Denver get Gallinari in rhythm when his struggles come primarily from his own doing?

The easy answer is to give him more looks in ISO situations, on the wing and in the post. Also, play Gallinari with as much spacing around him as possible and with players that possess an ample amount of gravity on the perimeter, something the Nuggets unfortunately lack at the moment.

Denver’s playoff hopes don’t solely rest on Gallinari or any individual player’s shoulders, but Denver doesn’t get themselves in the top eight of the Western Conference if Gallinari can’t increase his production this season.

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