Sixers ground Hawks behind Joel Embiid’s big night

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, shoots with Atlanta Hawks’ Clint Capela, center, defending during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Off the heels of Joel Embiid’s 50-point outburst against the Washington Wizards, the Philadelphia 76ers welcomed the Atlanta Hawks to the Wells Fargo Center Friday night as both teams continued to look to climb up the Eastern Conference standings. The Sixers started the first of two straight at home with a win by a final score of 125-114.

Here’s what stood out from the game.

Boom Boom Nico Batum

Atlanta Hawks’ Dejounte Murray, center, goes to the basket between Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, and Nicolas Batum during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

When the Sixers initially dealt James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers back in November, few expected any of the players the team received to make a marketable impact. In his time in Philadelphia, Nico Batum has vastly exceeded every expectation.

With another well-rounded performance of eight points, four rebounds, and four assists tonight, Batum continues to serve as the jack-of-all-trades the Sixers need in the starting lineup. His efficiency, intelligence, and versatile fit have been invaluable to the team this season.

The sixteen-year vet has been everything the Sixers could have asked for and more this season, leading the team on and off the court and providing the team with a sorely needed additional, functional ball-handler. Batum’s ability to stretch the floor has also been key for this season as he’s been not only one of the top shooters on the team but in the entire league.

Though volume isn’t his strong suit in regards to his shooting from range, Nico Batum has been elite as a shooter during his entire run with the Sixers. He’s currently second in the league in three-point shooting averaging 51.1 percent from deep following tonight’s game and 56.8 percent from range since coming to Philadelphia.

Enough cannot be said about his impact this season.

Kelly Oubre Jr. continues to provide a spark

Philadelphia 76ers’ Kelly Oubre Jr. dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Along with the play of Nico Batum, the performance of Kelly Oubre Jr. has been the surprise of the season so far for the Sixers. After making his return to the court Wednesday night against the Wizards, Oubre added 12 points on an efficient five-of-eight performance from the field.

Tonight against Atlanta, Oubre was just as valuable, tacking on 11 points while playing an important role defensively and in the hustle game, racking up two steals and a block. The impact he has made as an athletic wing who’s always ready to sacrifice for a loose ball cannot be overlooked.

It’s been some time since the Sixers have had a player of Oubre’s profile. For years, Oubre’s archetype has been long-pined for by fans of the team, and yet, there was no answer, until this season. With Oubre, the Sixers have a jolt of athleticism, length, hustle, and personality that the team has sorely missed.

Embiid continues to build the MVP case

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts after scoring and being fouled during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

After a 50-point performance against the Wizards, Joel Embiid continued to build his MVP case Friday night. Totaling 38 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, and four blocks, Embiid was dominant for the Sixers, who once again needed every last ounce to secure the win.

Over his last five games, Joel Embiid has averaged 37 points, 12.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 3.0 blocks per game. Though his defensive impact has fluctuated a bit in that time, the Sixers are also 4-1 over that period. If Embiid continues to play anywhere close to the level he is now, and the Sixers are able to remain competitive for, at the very least, the Eastern Conference title, then the NBA’s reigning MVP should be the favorite for a second straight season.

He’s already been placed atop’s Kia MVP Ladder. Currently sitting as a +700 to win the award, behind both Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shoot up the odds board a bit after his past two performances.

While a second MVP should not be at the forefront of Embiid’s mind, and no one here is suggesting it is, he continues to play at an MVP level, even better than last year. As long as Embiid is thriving and the team is winning, who could complain about the Sixers’ franchise center taking home a second consecutive MVP trophy?