Ever since they traded for James Harden, the Philadelphia 76ers have become one of the NBA’s most dangerous teams. They have one of the greatest scorers in league history in Harden and an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid.
However, both of their playing styles are horrible for the NBA.
Harden and Embiid understand the rules and how to draw fouls, which makes them experts at getting to the free-throw line. So, while fans typically enjoy watching a fast-pace style of play with a bunch of three-pointers and slam dunks, the Sixers are always stopping the flow of the game and going to the charity stripe.
So, after a recent loss to the Sixers, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff took issue with it.
J.B. Bickerstaff called out officials after the Cavs’ loss
Despite missing multiple stars due to injury, the Cavaliers were in a close game with the 76ers on April 3. They lost 112-108, but Bickerstaff believed they should have won.
“That game was taken from us,” he said, per ESPN. “We deserved to win it.”
“The one thing you can’t defend is the free-throw line, and that’s absurd,” Bickerstaff added. “Our guys deserved way better than they got tonight.”
The 76ers attempted 42 free throws, and the Cavs shot 31.
The NBA fined Bickerstaff for his comments, which doesn’t make much sense given that the league admitted that its officials made multiple mistakes.
The 76ers led 107-106 when Joel Embiid contacted Darius Garland on a layup attempt with 15 seconds left. The refs didn’t call a foul, but the NBA later admitted that Garland should have gone to the free-throw line.
The league also said Harden committed an offensive foul a few seconds later, which would have given Cleveland the ball and a chance to take the lead. The officials, however, didn’t call it correctly and sent Harden to the foul line instead.
Bickerstaff took issue with Joel Embiid and James Harden
While a 42-31 free throw comparison doesn’t look like much, James Harden and Joel Embiid actually combined for more attempts than the Cavs did as a team. The stars shot a whopping 32 between the two of them.
Bickerstaff had an issue with it.
“They’re great players, and they understand how to play through the rules,” he said, per ESPN. “They know how to manipulate the rules. This is no knock or disrespect to those guys. But the game has to be consistent on both ends of the floor. We were searching for that consistency, and we never found it.”
Bickerstaff may not have meant to single out Harden and Embiid, but the Cavs coach brought attention to one of the league’s biggest problems: The 76ers are bad for the NBA.
The 76ers’ style of play is bad for the NBA
Let’s first start by saying the 76ers aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong. They are playing within the rules.
But the NBA tried cracking down on foul baiting last offseason, and it may need to do more this summer. The game shouldn’t just be about the fans, but who wants to see play stoppage every couple of minutes just so particular players can go to the free-throw line?
It’s a boring brand of basketball.
And Joel Embiid and James Harden are two of the best at drawing fouls, which has become increasingly frustrating given that they play for the same team. Embiid is No. 1 in the NBA with 11.8 free-throw attempts per game. Harden is third with 8.4.
“That’s not foul baiting; you play basketball, this is basketball IQ,” Embiid said after JJ Redick brought a potential foul-baiting play to his attention on an episode of The Old Man and the Three. “… People are always saying ‘flops’ or ‘foul baiting’ and all of that stuff; that’s just me being smarter than everybody else. If we’re in the penalty, you know what I’m about to do. You know what Chris Paul is about to do; we’re just smarter than everybody else. That’s the rules of the game; we just take advantage of it.”
You can’t fault players like Embiid and Harden. They are doing what they feel is best for the Sixers to win. But Philly is one of the NBA’s best teams, and fans could grow uninterested in important playoff games just because of all the paused play.
Perhaps there isn’t much more the league can do. Again, the players are playing within the rules. But the constant foul calls make for a boring brand of basketball, which is bad for the overall growth of the game.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference