A closer look at the rise of Joel Embiid reveals what makes him so special

NBA: MAY 05 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 3 – Celtics at 76ers
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 05: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) looks toward the net during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 05, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Joel Embiid on The Court

While there was a growing concern for Embiid as he sat out the 2-year period before finally making his debut, his impact has been made from the second he started playing. In his debut game back in 2016, JoJo dropped 20 points along with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in just 25 minutes of action.

While he only suited up for 31 total games that season due to serious load management and a meniscus tear, it was clear the potential that he flashed. In these 31 games he averaged over 20 points and 8 rebounds while flashing the surprising 36.7% he hit from 3-point range. He asserted himself as a star on the team and was 4th in the league with a 35.6% usage rate despite the obstacles he faced getting on the court. Embiid continued to get healthy throughout the off-season before being joined by Ben Simmons, the supposed Robin to his Batman, for the following season.

Embiid came into the following season healthy and with Simmons at his side, the team took a leap winning 52 games- more than they won from 2013-2016 alone. Joel’s minutes continued to grow this year as did his stats along with it. He scored 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game and showed development in all areas of his game. Joel even made his first all-star game this year and proved he belonged in the same conversation of the elite players in the league.

After losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Celtics, Embiid went into the offseason fairly healthy and found more layers to add to his game. With the addition of Jimmy Butler to the team, Embiid and the Sixers proved to be even more dominant the following year. While in many ways this year was filled with uncertainty, Embiid proved to be able to be accounted for producing night-in and night-out. In this 2018-19 season, Joel posted career highs in games and minutes while scoring 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds.

While the year ended with the heart-breaking Kawhi shot, the excitement surrounding Joel Embiid and the entire team continued to grow coming into this season. This year clearly turned out to be a disaster. Whether it be the Horford signing, Brett Brown overstaying his welcome, or overall roster construction, this season turned out to be a massive disappointment. Embiid voiced his frustrations with the offense at times and the year ended with a pathetic postseason exit.

The Future

For the first time in his career, it feels as if Joel Embiid and the Sixers are at a bit of a crossroads. Embiid will look ahead to the second coach in his NBA career coming into the next season and a new gameplan to come with it. Rumors are swirling about Mike D’Antoni and the marriage with Embiid’s style is questionable at best. While he has talked about wanting to spend his whole career in Philly on many occasions, the next coaching decision will have a major impact on Embiid’s future happiness with the team.

In another era, Embiid may very well be in the discussion for the best player in the league. The Hakeem Olajuwon influence is obvious in Embiid’s game. But in addition to the array of post moves and incredible footwork he also can score on all 3 levels, is more mobile than anyone his size should, and dominant on the boards. Even in a league where the big man appears to be dying, Embiid has still solidified himself as a top 10 NBA player and remains in the prime of his career.

Joel has 3 years remaining on the max deal he signed after his rookie contract. He also has remained heavily involved in the coaching search this offseason and Elton Brand has preached that he has no plans to break up Simmons and Embiid. It is extremely likely that he will rightfully have the Sixers uniform on next season, but it is also likely his role on the team may look different than before.

The root of this debate boils down to whether a Center is capable of being the main focal point of an offense in today’s shooting heavy, position-less NBA. If the Sixers start to believe that this is not the case, Embiid may soon find his way looking for a new city to call home. While the talks of him clashing with Ben Simmons are largely overstated, it is also clearly true that the pair’s styles are not exact matches. Both will end their careers as top 10 Sixers of all time and it is still possible for a compatible roster capable of producing a championship to be put around them, but the clock is starting to run out on this plan.

From the awkward tape-delayed draft reaction on draft-night to Embiid looking like the only player belonging on the court at times against the Celtics- Joel and the City have been through a lot together. In a dream scenario, Embiid will play out of the remainder of his career in Philadelphia and lead the team to endless postseason success. Whether or not this is how reality turns out is still to be determined, but in the meantime, Embiid should be appreciated for all that he is. Not many guys have embraced Philadelphia in the way that Joel has and even fewer can make the amount of impact on the basketball court. There will never be another Joel Embiid and he should be appreciated for the level of greatness he possesses.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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