Why Joel Embiid is rapidly becoming an early MVP candidate

NBA: FEB 24 Magic at 76ers
PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 24: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) laughs with Orlando Magic Center Bismack Biyombo (11) in the second half during the game between the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers on February 24, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Joel Embiid has asserted himself as one of, if not the best big man in the NBA this season. Starting with his 29 point eruption in the season opener against Washington, Embiid has done little in the way of slowing down since then.

Through ten games, the talented center ranks in the top ten league-wide in points, rebounds, and blocks, averaging a stellar 26.6 PPG, 12.1 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. His impact on both ends of the floor has been nothing short of dominant.

Unfortunately for the poor souls tasked with opposing him, Embiid may just be warming up. Having set a previous season-high with 38 points last week against the Wizards, Embiid took it up another notch in the overtime victory over the Heat.

With the Sixers down to just eight active players following an unfortunate COVID outbreak, Embiid stepped up when they needed him most. In just under 40 minutes played, the perennial all-star exploded for 45 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, and a career-high 5 steals on the night. A historic performance in every sense of the phrase, Embiid is the first player with such a stat line since 1983(!).

After hitting a clutch jumper to send the game to overtime, Embiid put on an offensive clinic in the extra period, scoring 11 of Philly’s 17 points.

“When we put him in the middle of the floor, I thought [Miami] really struggled,” coach Doc Rivers claimed postgame. “He willed this game for us tonight, and so did other guys.”

Embiid carrying the load has been the theme all season. Through ten games, the Cameroonian big man has scored fewer than 20 points just two times and already has four 29+ point performances under his belt.

“It’s who he is, and we tell him that every night.” Rivers said.

Embiid’s consistency and efficiency are huge reasons why the Sixers are enjoying so much success. Clearly, his decision to change his dietary habits and prioritize his body this offseason is paying dividends.

“This summer is the one that I really tried to really focus on it. By just having my own chef, nutritionist, my own [physical therapist] and massage therapist. Just doing whatever I can to take care of my body and so I’m able to play 20 years here in Philly,” Embiid told reporters in early December. “I think that’s the thing I’ve learned the most since I’ve been in the league, and it was a short time between the end of this past season and this new season, but it’s a work in progress.” You’ve got to start somewhere but it’s been going great, and I’m still learning every single day.”

At 7’0, 280 pounds, Embiid has long been one of the most towering, physically dominant players in the league. After putting in the work in a shortened offseason, though, Embiid looks MUCH stronger and more fluid. Night after night, Joel Embiid imposes his will down low, bullying defenders deep into the post for easy looks.

It appears to be a lot more difficult to wear the skilled big man down and as a result, Embiid is having his way with the NBA landscape. So much so that his name has surfaced as an MVP candidate by national media outlets.

Joel Embiid has heard the praise, but insists that he values winning over personal accolades.

“The main thing is winning,” Embiid said Thursday. “If we win, that means all these awards, I’m part of it, I’m up there for those considerations. Of course. A player of, I guess, my talent, should always be in MVP conversations, or Defensive Player of the Year conversations and All-NBA, it should be like that every single year. To be able to accomplish that, you have to win. So I think that’s the main thing. Winning cures everything, it makes everybody happy, it’s going to help you when it comes to awards and stuff. So that’s the thing that you know we as a team we’ve really got to focus on.”

Only time will tell if he winds up taking the honors home, but at the rate he’s going, I’d be very surprised if the Sixers star doesn’t have some new hardware by season’s end.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire