In statistics, we often observe that one event happens at the same time as another event. When this happens, it is called correlation.
However, we often try to find out if one event caused another event. This could be called a causal relationship.
Just because two events happen at the same time does not necessarily mean that one is the cause of the other. But it could be. And it’s usually easier to find two events that are correlated with each other and then test with another analysis to see if we believe there is a causal relationship.
That is how it is here.
In six games played alongside James Harden this season, Joel Embiid averaged 27.2 ppg (53.2% ppg, 78.8% ppg, 30.0 ppg), 9.5 ppg , 3.3 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.0 triples, 0.5 steals and 3.7 steals per game. 34.5 mpg.
In four games played without Harden this season, Embiid is averaging 40.0 ppg (54.3% ppg, 86.4% ppg, 16.7 ppg), 11.0 rebounds, 5. 3 assists, 2.8 blocks, 0.8 triples, 0.8 assists and 5.0 T/G at 36.3 miles per game. .
As such, Embiid’s contribution to fantasy basketball has greatly increased in some areas during the short period he has played without Harden. But is Embiid doing more because he plays without Harden? Or could it just be a small sample size correlation, a lucky streak from Embiid that just happened to Harden off the roster?
There are reasonable philosophies to argue in both directions. Harden can be a highly active player, so if you take that away, you would expect teammates to have more shots and opportunities to fill in the gap. On the other hand, Harden is the floor general who is in charge of making sure his teammates hit the ball, and you might suspect that removing a team’s best offensive creator could hurt teammates’ scoring, and possibly volume.
What’s the matter here? Let’s play them both.
Cause: Embiid is better without the Beard: After a disappointing postseason where many wondered if Harden’s best days were far behind him, Harden entered this season talking about how he’s in much better shape and therefore has MVP aspirations. He rushed out of the net, having scored 29 or more points in three of his first four games and had nine or more assists in the last four games he played alongside Embiid. In total, in those six games, Harden averaged 23.3 points per game (16.5 ppg, 6.8 ppg), 7.8 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.3 T/G. Harden currently ranks 21st in the NBA in scoring (straight ahead of teammate Tyreese Maxey), second in assists per game, and 34th in rebounds per game. He would rank 30th in field goal attempts and 14th in free throw attempts.
According to Second Spectrum, Harden touched the ball 837 times in nine games. This means that Harden touched the ball more per game (93.0) than Luka Doncic (92.7 in 13 games) or Nikola Jokic (91.2 in 13 games), two MVP candidates who are known to be let through all the attacks. Embiid averaged 69.9 touches per game in his 10 games.
So not only did Harden throw a lot of shots and the team’s entire attack went through him, but he also smashed the boards hard from the backcourt. Plus, if you’ve watched the Sixers at all this season, you’ve seen Harden hit the ball on a lot of possessions. While that may have been great for the 76ers as a team, Harden’s 4.4 Real Plus-Minus (RPM) score suggests he is currently the 11th most influential player in the NBA this season; it could do nothing but damage Embiid’s volume.
The Embiid is not the traditional big man who needs protection to make him look good. Instead, he likes to stand face up and create his own dribbling look. According to Second Spectrum, Embiid commits 14.7 isolations per 100 possessions, which is the fifth highest in the NBA behind Luka, Shai Gilgeus-Alexander, Pascal Siakam and…you guessed it, teammate Harden. If Harden dominates the ball, Embiid can’t go to work as often as he would like. The same applies to assists. If Harden initiates most of the throws, Embiid doesn’t have the ability to generate many passes of his own. And that’s true even on rebounds, where a strong guard means that Embiid just doesn’t have many caroms.
Harden played a lot better this season before he got injured, which was great for the 76ers but lousy for Embiid’s fantastic basketball.
Correlation: Coincidentally, a small sample size, like Harden’s: Embiid is at its peak right now, but it’s not sustainable. He’s not going to average 40 points and 5.3 assists for the rest of the season, no matter who his teammates are. It just so happens that Embiid fired up with a historic weekend of 101 points and 14 assists in two games against the Hawks and Jazz, and if we review his numbers in a few weeks, they will regress to his actual level. What is this level?
Well, last season at age 27-28, typically peak years, Embiid averaged 30.6 points per game, 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. It’s for the season. But do you know what Embiid’s numbers have been this past season since Harden made his 76ers debut on Feb. 25? Embiid averaged 32.6 points per game, 12.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in those 22 games. That’s right, Embiid’s scoring and rebounding numbers increased significantly last season once he started playing alongside Harden.
And while, yes, Harden started this season looking much better than he did in the past, he really hasn’t been any more devastating in terms of possession this season than he was last. This season, Harden has 2.3 more field goals per game but 2.7 fewer free throws, 0.5 fewer assists and 0.5 fewer passes per game. Considering the fact that Harden’s 26.4 times usage percentage this season is only marginally higher than his 24.9% of the US dollars after he joined the 76ers last season.
And Harden’s skill makes up for the slightly increased usage. On the second range, Harden has made 610 of his 837 touches this season, and his passes have produced a brilliant 1.23 points per direct assist. This is one of the best results in the league, considering the numbers achieved by the league’s top assistants Tyrese Halliburton (1.12 points per direct pass), Chris Paul (1.31 points per direct pass) and Trae Young (1.31 points per direct pass) . straight pass). So yes, Harden touched the ball a lot. But in the vast majority of cases, these touches ended in passes, and when he passed, Harden framed his teammates for a dime. Ultimately, this could only be to the benefit of Embiid’s performance.
bottom line: After such a small number of games, it is impossible to say in either case whether the correlation between the absence of Harden and the explosion of Embiid is causal. I suspect that Harden’s ability to take the focus off the opposing defense and set up his teammates with good passing will eventually help Embiid’s scoring, but it’s not enough to completely overcome the smaller volume. That while Embiid should put in big numbers anyway, his numbers are likely to drop after Harden’s return.
But there are other factors at work as well. The ultimate goal of this exercise was to determine whether FBA managers with Embiid on their teams should be advised to keep the two-time MVP runner-up or perhaps trade him while his value is at a relative maximum. I would say that, looking at the overall situation, it would make sense to trade Embiid high. Embiid missed at least 14 games in every season of his career, and in the four seasons before last, that number was close to 20 missed in a season. He has already missed four out of 14 games this season.
As such, it’s already wise to consider trading Embiid while he’s at his peak before he’s forced to miss a significant amount of time. In addition, you should also consider that Maxi has also become a high attendance player this season. With Harden and Maxi landing nearly 35 shots, over 14 assists and 10+ backcourt shields, I think Embiid’s potential will be limited once Harden returns.
I recommend fantasy hoop managers to fully enjoy numbers in video games like Wilt Embiid. But I also recommend that you discuss these numbers with your league mates at every opportunity to try and sell Embiid for a Wilt-like value to the Avengers instead of holding on and settling for a more human comeback once the Beard returns.