Joel Embiid has grown immensely during his time in the league. So much so that he is now considered a top MVP candidate.
The NBA season is still young as the Sixers have now played 30 of the (hopefully) 72 games that the league has planned. In that time, the Sixers boast a 20-10 record.
Embiid has played no small part in this as he’s been both the motor driving the team and the glue holding it together. One thing has been made clear in these first 30 games; Joel Embiid should be the unquestioned frontrunner for the MVP race.
The evolution of Joel Embiid
It has been seven years since the Sixers drafted Joel Embiid with the 3rd overall pick in the 2014 draft. The 7′ Cameroonian has come a long way since then. Keep in mind Embiid did not touch a basketball before the age of 15.
The Philly faithful have watched Joel develop from the shy college kid into a true NBA superstar. So far this season, Embiid is averaging 30.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists.
This is the 4th highest scoring total in the league. Embiid also ranks 2nd in Player-Efficiency Rating, 3rd in highest usage percentage, 2nd in win shares per 48 minutes, and 2nd in box plus-minus.
It also should be noted that his passing has been far better than the 3.1 assists per game indicates. Joel has shown tremendous growth in his ability to pass out of a double team this season.
These passes often do not show up on the stat sheet. They typically lead to the ball jetting around the perimeter in a string of passes to find the open shooter and become a “hockey assist” for Joel.
The Mid-Range game
One significant addition to Embiid’s game has been his mid-range jumper. The 3-time all-star is shooting nearly 60% from the mid-range area, which is 12% higher than his previous career-high percentage. This not only has become a reliable part of his game but also preserves his body in a great way.
Rather than being forced to bang bodies in the post for every hard-earned point, Embiid can simply knock down 12-footers regularly. This has also opened up his ability to drive to the basket as defenders must respect his close-out.
The rise of Joel Embiid
In the most recent match-up with the Bulls, Joel Embiid scored a career-high 50 points while adding 17 boards, 5 assists, and shooting 65% from the field. He put the team on his back, and the Sixers finished with a 112-105 victory.
As Doc Rivers put it after the game, “We needed every basket he could give us.”
Joel also played an extremely valuable role on the defensive end. He added 4 blocks and 2 steals and showed to be the dominant rim protector than he has proven to be.
Embiid is the first Sixers to record a 50 point game in over 15 years. The last to do this was Allen Iverson in 2005. Joel is also only the 13th player in NBA history to have a game with at least 50 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in a game and is also only the 8th player with 50 points and 4 blocks in a game.
In the previous game vs. the Rockets, Embiid did not seem quite himself. He looked stiff, had a cold-hand early on, and was seen grabbing his back on multiple occasions. However, when the game ended, Embiid’s stat line read 31 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists.
This was enough to push the Sixers to a victory, and he impressively found a way to make an impact despite not playing his best. It is also mind-blowing that Embiid was capable of racking up a near triple-double in a game he clearly was not at 100%.
Just how valuable is JoJo?
The Sixers have exceeded expectations so far, sitting atop the Eastern Conference with a 20-10 record. Joel Embiid has missed 6 of the 30 games this year. The Sixers went 1-5 in those games.
When Joel is on the court, the Sixers score 14.3 more points per 100 possessions. The Sixers’ effective field goal percentage is also 10 points higher when he is on the court. The team also allows 5.5 more points per 100% when Embiid is not playing.
While certainly to a lesser extent, there are flashbacks to the 2018-19 Raptors series where Kawhi Leonard painfully ended the Sixers season. In this series overall, the Sixers were +90 in the 237 minutes Joel was on the floor.
In the 99 minutes he sat, the Sixers were -109. During game 7 alone, the Sixers were +10 in the 45:11 he was on the court and -12 in the 2:49 that Embiid was on the bench.
Not only is Joel Embiid the focal point of the offense, but he also is the anchor for the Sixers defense. A significant part of which is Embiid’s career average of has averaged 1.7 blocks per game. His presence alters countless shots that the stat-sheet is unable to count for.
Joel has been the most important player on the Sixers since he began playing, but it has become increasingly evident this season.
How Does Joel Embiid Stack Up?
Joel Embiid currently ranks second in MVP odds only behind LeBron James. He is followed by Nikola Jokic, as well as Kevin Durant and Steph Curry.
LeBron James is undoubtedly one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He is playing a career-low in minutes this year while continuing to make his impact felt on the court.
However, even LeBron has failed to show Joel Embiid’s dominance on both ends of the floor. The presence and production that Embiid brings every second he is on the court is so necessary for this Sixers team.
If Embiid could not play for the rest of the season or even for an extended time, the Sixers’ title hopes would immediately vanish.
When he is in the lineup, the Sixers have arguably the best team in the NBA. When Embiid is missing, they are a team that losses to the Pistons, Grizzlies, and Cavs. The overall play certainly is the deciding factor. However, it is relevant to note that if the Lakers did not have LeBron James on their roster, they would still be a playoff team.
Embiid’s One Shortcoming
The largest criticism of Joel Embiid will continue to be his availability. Given his previous knee and foot issues, as well as the lingering back problem this season, The Process himself must be protected. Embiid lays his body on the line every second he is on the court, and this is precisely why it is so important to hold him out of the lineup at times.
It should also be noted that Joel Embiid is the most upset out of everyone when he cannot play. He has repeatedly talked about his desire to play on an every-game basis.
Following the opening game, Embiid put it that, “I’m going to be ready to play every single night.” He emphasized that he is capable of playing back-to-backs and has reinforced this throughout the season.
Regardless of how the MVP race shakes out, everyone should take a minute to appreciate the player Joel Hans Embiid has become. At 26 years old, Embiid recently put it that, “It just feels like the game has slowed down for me.”
The superstar is firmly in the prime of his career and has a legitimate chance of going down as one of the all-time greats. Each Sixers game puts his greatness on full display, and this should be appreciated while it is here.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire