Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid and The Free Throw Dilemma 

Free Throws are the easiest points in the game- you stand right at the line with no defenders and *almost* all the time in the world. Despite only being worth one point, the free throw is a highly coveted shot, and rightfully so, especially considering the level of difficulty and frequency at which free throws are taken on a per-game and per-team basis in 2023. After all, the object of the game is to help put points on the board for your team as efficiently as possible…right?

This is where the lines begin to blur. Being able to garner attention from the defense and, as a result, get fouled and sent to the line is supposed to be a good thing. However, with many players over the past few years drawing free throws at abnormally high rates, fans, and media alike, have begun to question the legitimacy of said free throws and whether or not players are embellishing contact from defenders for the officials to call more fouls and, in turn, more trips to the line for said players. This dilemma runs rampant in discussions of the free throws that Joel Embiid receives on a nightly basis.

Joel is averaging just over 11 free throws per game, which may very well regress to the mean of around 10 for his career, especially since the season is still early and if he can continue the trend of being able to rest in the 4th quarter. He converts on these attempts at an absurd 89% clip. Reminder: he is 7 feet tall. For his career, Joel averages 10 free throw attempts per game in the regular season and 9.3 in the playoffs. 

Joel averaged 7.9 in his first year and converted on 78% of them in the regular season. Since the 2020-2021 NBA season, Joel has averaged 11.4 free throw attempts per game, which seems to have become a cause for concern across the NBA community. In that span, Embiid has become a master of getting defenders to bite on his many up-fakes, shot fakes, and pumps, especially in the mid-range and on the block. 

Many among NBA intelligentsia have begun to question whether or not Embiid’s free throws, or the way he goes about getting them in certain scenarios, is bad for the league and, on a much smaller scale in what I will be talking about in this article, whether or not Joel is a free throw hunting, foul baiting flopper who relies too heavily on free throws as his approach to offense as a whole.

I want to preface this by saying that every NBA player looks to draw extra whistles from the officials, whether this is by selling contact from defenders, looking to draw more contact, or both. NBA players have become very good at manipulating rules in their favor, especially when it comes to free throws. 

In Joel Embiid’s case, I would certainly be lying to you if I said he wasn’t doing this more than others. However, Embiid does both of these things. As I mentioned before, Embiid has mastered the art of drawing fouls from defenders (and yes: it is an art). On the flip side, he also tends to embellish contact and look to receive extra free throws that way. However, this simply is not happening as often as you, the reader, and many others are led to believe. 

There is a common talking point that Embiid “relies” on free throws to score his points and that he is not able to score the way he does without getting to the line 15+ times per game. This is pretty easy to debunk, and we would not even have to look very far, as Joel has had 5 games this year taking 8 free throws or less. Mind you: he has only played 22 of 25 possible games this year. While this may not be the most convincing by itself, Joel Embiid had 22 of 66 possible games played in the 2022-2023 season in which he took less than 10 free throws. This is exactly ⅓ of the games he played.

A much more common, and slightly more involved, talking point is the way Embiid gets his free throws, which many in the community cite as “flopping.” As I mentioned earlier, many point to Embiid’s movement on the court to suggest that he focuses too heavily on looking for contact from officials instead of just playing basketball. While he does do this, I can’t say for certain whether he does more than the next guy. I am not a fan of him doing it at all. I think he can dominate any game without looking for extra whistles. He does not need free throws to destroy opponents the way he does. 

There are many times when Embiid is more concerned with looking for contact as opposed to just trying to get to his spots. However, it is NOT his entire approach to offense like many say. As I mentioned earlier, there have been plenty of instances where Embiid’s free throw totals game-to-game are very low. As for the contact that he looks for: a stat does not exist for this. This is something that we have to see when it unfolds to say and know for sure. 

At the end of the day: getting free throws is STILL a good thing and if you can get them, you should, obviously within reason. Being able to contribute to points on the board for your team efficiently is the goal of the game. Whether it be Joel Embiid or Alperen Sengun: if you can get free throws without being ridiculous about the way you draw contact from defenders, you should do it. Joel Embiid does it.

At the end of the day, I am not here to convince you of anything. I am here to provide you with an opinion and an explanation to go with it as well as some information and some numbers. You can believe and think however and whatever you want. I encourage you to watch Joel Embiid and form your opinion that way instead of listening to what you read and see on Twitter. 

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Mike is a Philadelphia 76ers fan and enjoys day dreaming about a Trae Young-Joel Embiid pick and roll. He creates daily content for Tik Tok and Instagram under @TrustTheLuv on all platforms.