Since making his NBA debut in 2016, Joel Embiid has been one of the most dominant bigs in the league. Embiid has been the centerpiece in the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild. What has been dubbed “The process” has completely transformed the Sixers from being the worst team in the league to reaching the playoffs for five straight years.
As previously mentioned, Embiid made an immediate impact as he averaged over 20 PPG in what would be considered his rookie season. Injuries have taken quite the toll on Embiid, causing many fans to label him as “injury-prone”. For this reason, much of his success has been disregarded.
Not only did Embiid play the most games in his career last season, but he did so while having the best season that he’s ever had. Joel Embiid has finally proven that he is a top-five player in the NBA, and here’s why.
Joel Embiid is an elite scorer
For starters, Embiid proved to be the best scorer in the league last year as he averaged a league-leading 30.6 PPG. Embiid is listed at 7-foot and has no true weakness in his offensive game. He has stated in the past that he studies the moves of players such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to try and mirror their gameplay. As crazy as it is to say, he did so beautifully.
The ability to score the basketball at will is what truly separates Embiid from the other players in the NBA. On one occasion last season, he scored 50 points in 27 minutes. This was just one game in a stretch of time that Embiid looked like the best player in basketball. From December 25 to January 25, Joel Embiid averaged 34.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 4.3 APG, on 55/39/83 shooting splits. Perhaps the most impressive stat of all is that he did so in just 31.8 minutes per game.
Embiid is not your average offensive big
When focusing on a weakness in the center position, the first thing that comes to mind is shooting. A huge part of what makes Embiid so special is his ability to shoot the basketball. Last season, he shot over 37% from beyond the arc. While this is impressive in itself, it doesn’t truly reflect how well he can shoot from deep. On numerous occasions, Embiid has hit highly-contested shots from way beyond the three-point line.
What many fans would say separates Embiid from two-time MVP Nikola Jokic is his passing ability. While this may be true, Embiid is not a poor passer whatsoever. Last season Embiid incorporated the passing game more than he ever has, averaging 4.2 assists. He has learned to use the double-team to his advantage, finding an open teammate to pass to.
Even without averaging a notable amount of assists, he is still able to control the Sixers’ offense in the same way that a point guard would.
Offensively, Embiid had one of the best seasons ever for a center. He averaged the most points per game as a center since Shaquille O’neal’s MVP season in 2000. He also had the most 40-point and 10-rebound games in NBA history with 13. To put this into perspective, two-time league MVP, Nikola Jokic, has had seven 40 and 10 games in his entire career. As impressive as his offense is, Embiid is also one of the best defenders in the league.
Philadelphia 76ers’ defense slips in a notable way without Embiid
Embiid has made an All-Defensive team in three out of the six seasons that he’s played in the NBA. With the “eye test”, it’s easy to see the defensive impact that Embiid has on the Sixers. That being said, there still needs to be statistics to prove that statement.
When looking at opponent shooting percentages, the Sixers let opponents hit 45.6% of their field goals with Embiid as opposed to 47.2% without him. In three-point shooting, opponents hit 34.3% of their attempts with Embiid on the floor and 36% without him. The difference is subtle in this instance, but it has an impact.
Where would the 76ers be without Embiid’s rebounding?
Embiid is one of the best defensive rebounders in the league, as he finished with the third most defensive rebounds per game in the NBA. With Embiid in the game, the Sixers averaged 34 rebounds per game. Without him, they slipped to 32.7.
Based on these stats alone, it is clear that having Embiid on the court makes the Sixers’ defense better. As far as individual stats go, Embiid finished with the ninth most blocks per game to go along with 1.1. His steals average was the second most amongst centers, behind only Jokic.
Elite defense and elite offense are everything that you could ask for in an NBA player. Joel Embiid having the ability to get it done on both sides of the ball is what makes him one of the best players on the planet.
Finishing as the MVP runner-up in back-to-back years shows in itself that he was a top-three player in each of the last two years. With that being said, there are still players that could be viewed as better regardless of their performance last season. It is unrealistic to say that Embiid is a top-three player in the NBA, however, it is ridiculous to say that he isn’t top-five after the season he had last year.