Joel Embiid has been the defensive anchor for the Sixers since his first game with the team. It’s time he was respected in the DPOY conversation.
Last year, it finally became a regular conversation about Joel Embiid and his potential to win the league’s Most Valuable Player. However, it is also time for Joel to be considered for another piece of prestigious hardware: the Defensive Player of the Year.
Over the past few years, the DPOY conversation has been dominated by French big man Rudy Gobert and the Greek Freak in Giannis Antetoukoupmo. There have been some occasional other contenders like Ben Simmons last year, yet Gobert and Antetoukoupmo have been the winners of the prestigious award over the past four seasons, with Rudy winning three of the last four, and for good reason.
However, looking at the Sixers specifically, the team’s defensive rating with Joel Embiid is 107.7, according to StatMuse, while when Embiid is off, the Sixers have a defensive rating of 110.1, which is worse than with him. The Jazz meanwhile, with Rudy Gobert, have a very good defensive rating of 108.8, which is still lower than that of the 76ers.
In fairness, this shows that the Sixers themselves are just a better defensive team than the Jazz. They have a pair of defensive masterminds in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle and other players who consistently give great defensive effort, but I don’t think that just because Embiid plays with excellent defensive players that he can’t also be considered for Defensive Player of the Year.
Joel Embiid impacts every facet of the Sixers and has been the centerpiece for both the 76ers offense and defense every year. He is the leading bucket getter nearly every game and is one of the best interior deterrents in the league.
It is also extremely early in the season, but through the first four games, Embiid has 9 blocks and 5 steals, averaging 2.3 blocks per game and 1.3 steals per game. Despite the small sample size, Embiid may actually be able to not only sustain such high block and steal counts but exceed them throughout the season. The biggest knock against him will be his health, as it usually is during the award races.
Despite the fact that Embiid probably shouldn’t have played in the OKC Thunder game and the fact that he is clearly yet to reach 100%, Embiid still provided amazing effort finishing with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 blocks in 33 minutes, including this monstrous block on Darius Bazely.
Embiid was a continual factor on the offensive, and defensive end as Seth Curry stepped up, pouring in 28 points on 7/10 shooting from three, allowing Joel to really lock in defensively for the Sixers. This is not some new element to his game, though. This is what he has been able to do for years.
In 2016-2017, Joel’s rookie year, the Sixers carried a defensive rating of 108.2, which ranked them 16th in the league. The next year, where Joel finally got to play a majority of the games, the Philadelphia 76ers jumped from 16th to 3rd with a defensive rating of 103.9. Since Joel’s arrival, Philly has been in the top half of the league in defensive rating, usually in the top 10 and multiple times in the top 3 in terms of defensive rating.
I’m not saying that Joel deserves it over Rudy Gobert or over Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’m not saying that Rudy doesn’t deserve the three DPOYs he has accumulated. All this to say, Joel Embiid deserves even more respect put on his name as a potential DPOY candidate. He regularly helps his teams finish in the top half of the league, even with large amounts of roster turnover each year.
Joel Embiid is the best center in the league, not just because of his offense, but because he regularly is the anchor and focal point of one of the premier defenses in the league.