The art of the double-team: Keys for the Wizards in doubling Joel Embiid

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Keys for the Wizards in doubling Joel Embiid originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Wizards are locked into a first round series with the Sixers, which means a heck of a lot of Joel Embiid, the 7-foot mountain of a man who is uniquely skilled for his size. This season, he put it all together to become an MVP finalist with averages of 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and a career-high 54.5 effective field goal percentage. 

What stands out most besides his size is his versatile skillset? He can score at all three levels to a degree very few big men in NBA history could.

Even though the Wizards got Embiid into early foul trouble in their Game 1 loss on Sunday, he still found a way to score 30 points on 16 shots, with help from a 12-for-13 performance at the free throw line. Stopping him is a near impossibility, but the Wizards plan to keep trying.

One of the ways they can try is by double-teaming him. Now, that's not easy to do, as they found out in Game 1. In fact, they triple-teamed him on one play in the first half, with Davis Bertans, Robin Lopez and Rui Hachimura all converging. Embiid somehow scored a bucket through contact for an and-1.

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The play went viral on social media because it was absolutely ridiculous. It also well-illustrated what the Wizards are up against.

With the idea of stopping Embiid, here are the keys to pulling off a proper double-team...

Disguise it

Tony Massenburg, former NBA big man and current NBC Sports Washington analyst: "I think the key to a good double-team is not letting the offensive player know it’s coming. I think that’s the best double-team. Mix it up a little bit, maybe fake a double-team sometimes. You double off the shooter one time and then you double from the top the next time. Any time you can mix up the double-team and not give the offensive player a read on where it’s coming from, so they don’t know where to make the next pass, I think those are usually the most effective double-teams."

Fully commit

Rui Hachimura, Wizards forward: "I think it’s just if you’re going to do it, you gotta go for it. Last night, we were kind of just half-ass and kind of floating. We’ve just gotta be more aggressive from the beginning. We’ve just gotta communicate defensively and help the bigs. I know he’s one of the best players in the NBA, the MVP. We’ve just gotta help the bigs on one of the best players in the league."

Block passing lanes

Head coach Scott Brooks: "When you double team, you’ve gotta be precise, you have to take his air space. You have to take away his vision with four hands. Do chest-on-chest. If you can do that, it gives you the best chance. Now, he’s a very talented, skilled big, wide body, athletic. He’s not afraid of it because he’s seen it many times. That just gives you the best chance."

Get him off his spots

Brooks: "You’ve gotta have ball pressure initially. There’s a couple of things that have to take place. You have to be able to be physical without fouling before he touches the ball. Then, you’ve gotta have some good ball pressure."

Daniel Gafford, Wizards center: "This may be hard to do, but I’m up for the challenge and my teammates are up for the challenge. Just really bringing him out of his comfort zone. He can’t get very comfortable when it comes to either playing one-on-one defense against him or really just double-teaming him."

Don't overdo it

Massenburg: "I would try to hold off on that because that also increases the chances he gets to the foul line. He’s very effective at [85.9] percent. My thing would be somebody be forced into a position to beat you other than Joel Embiid... I think they should mix up double-team and single cover him as much as possible because if you set the double-team, Embiid’s also a pretty good passer. If you don’t have to set the double-team, then it doesn’t give him the option to make the pass and involve other guys. If you can disrupt the timing for other guys, because they live to help from the double-team. They expect the double-team and, as a result, they make you regret it for them. I think the less time you can spend having to double-team, [the better]."

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Double-teaming was a strategy for the Wizards in Game 1, but given they lost and Embiid still scored 30, there are likely to be adjustments going into Game 2. At the end of Brooks' answer on the subject after Monday's practice, he alluded to possibly double-teaming less, as Massenburg suggested.

"I think we can get better. And we looked at a bunch of clips [in our film session] where we didn’t do as well as we are capable of doing it. Hopefully, we can do a better job Wednesday night, if we do go back to that," he said.

Whether there will be fewer double-teams on Embiid, or maybe even more of them, these rules will apply as the Wizards try to stop one of the best players in the game.