No Exaggeration: Joel Embiid Is Playing At An All-Time Great Level
— 9 January 2024

No Exaggeration: Joel Embiid Is Playing At An All-Time Great Level

— 9 January 2024

While the modern NBA has transitioned towards being more about quick guards who can shoot the long ball at a high clip, players like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have brought the game back to the man in the middle. Because when a guy is 7’2″ and can run the floor with guard skills, there isn’t much you can really do about that.

After James Harden’s dramatic departure from the Philadelphia 76ers culminated in a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, this year’s expectations for the Sixers were considerably lowered. However, Philly currently has a record of 23-12 and is now the East’s third seed behind the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.

A lot of players on the team have elevated their games this year to compensate for The Beard’s on-court absence. In fact, at the time of this writing, point guard Tyrese Maxey is in pole position to take home the NBA Most Improved Player for 2023-24.

RELATED: Basketball Is Not America’s Sport Anymore

But arguably the most impressive leap has come from the reigning MVP: Joel Embiid. He’s averaging 34.6 points, six assists, and 11.8 rebounds, with the first two categories being career highs.

The uptick in assists can be attributed to the movement-heavy system that head coach Nick Nurse has introduced, as well as the roster team president Daryl Morey has built around the big fella. They have a lot of quality wing depth and Embiid has been looking to share the ball after drawing double-teams.

“You can’t win with the ball sticking and playing iso basketball,” Joel Embiid recently stated.

“You’ve gotta have movement. Obviously for that to happen, you’ve gotta have the right players to play with that type of system. The balls just gotta move… It’s not just about scoring. You’re passing the ball, guys are making shots, the ball is moving, everybody’s happy. It’s fun.”

Across 27 games, Embiid has scored 935 points in 922 minutes on the court. For reference, collecting more points than minutes played in the NBA has been practically unheard of across the last 50 years. It’s only happened once in NBA history with Wilt Chamberlain (1962).

This was the same year The Big Dipper averaged 50.36 points per game and scored 100 points in a single game (both records). However, Embiid sort of distinguishes himself in the sense that he’s scored more points per 36 minutes than anyone in the history of basketball (31.2).

Joel Embiid’s hardly been stepping onto the court in the fourth quarter this year, either. He averages just 4.4 minutes per game in the fourth and often sits them out entirely in blowouts. In other words, this makes his scoring all the more impressive: leading the league in scoring with 34.63 points per game (14th best of all time) across 34.1 minutes a night.

Last year, Embiid became the first big man since Shaq to lead the NBA in points. Now, he’s doing it again with more points in less minutes. He’s the current betting odds favourite to take home the MVP trophy at the end of the season (again), which would make him the 14th player in league history to win MVP in back-to-back seasons alongside Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well as Nikola Jokic.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps recently published his first MVP straw poll for the 2023-24 NBA season, which strongly indicated that Embiid could go back to back. The results found that he currently holds 63 of the 100 first-place votes and 27 second-place votes, which helped push him more than 200 points ahead of the next-closest challenger in Jokic.

“I have a pretty good chance [at another MVP],” Joel Embiid told Bontemps.

“I mean, if I have a chance to be in the conversation, why not? I want it all. I’m not shy about it. I’m not going to sit here and be like, ‘Oh, I don’t care about this.’ Anything that I can get my hands on, I want it.”

There is an unspoken rivalry between Jokic and Embiid, which stems from the fact that they both play the same position and are arguably the two best players in the world right now. Embiid was the runner-up in both years that Jokic won MVP, and Jokic was runner-up last year when Embiid claimed it.

Things got even more dicey when All-NBA selections were being made and there was only a single on the First Team for a centre. This meant that either Jokic or Embiid had to be Second Team All-NBA for three years, despite finishing in the top two for the Most Valuable Player award. Starting this year, the NBA is now adopting a positionless format for All-NBA team composition. Presumably in large part to accommodate both fellas.

At this point, it’s worth noting that there’s still a lot left of this ongoing season to play, so conversations surrounding who deserves these awards are a little premature. Last year, Bontemps’ first straw poll placed Jayson Tatum as a narrow favourite to win MVP with Giannis Antetokounmpo in second place. Jokic only had one first-place vote and Embiid had zero first-place (or second-place) votes. Embiid ended up with 73 first-place votes, Jokic secured 15, and Tatum received a nice fat zero.

Translation: nobody’s a lock for MVP. Yet. But Joel Embiid would be the clear choice if the season ended today. He’s been on an unbelievable tear lately.

Back in December, Embiid recorded his season-high 51 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves, which boast the best defensive rating in the league. Being guarded by three-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient (and frontrunner for the trophy this year) Rudy Gobert, JoJo went 17-of-25 shooting and had his 12th consecutive game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds.

He’s now improved that streak of 30/10 games to 15 in a row, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to ever do so.

Joel Embiid’s career points per game now sits at a tidy 27.66, which only trails Chamberlain (30.07) and Michael Jordan (30.12) in all-time ranking.

The advanced stats of Embiid — while by no means a perfect science — are also ridiculously impressive. He’s on pace to have the highest Player Efficiency Rating for a single season of all time with 34.1, which is a stat that’s standardised (league average: 15). His career PER is also the highest of all time at 28.3, narrowly ahead of Michael Jordan’s second-place rating of 27.9.

RELATED: James Harden Gifts Joel Embiid A Custom Rolex Day-Date For Winning The 2023 MVP

In our season predictions article, I suggested that The Process might be unofficially counted out of the MVP award race due to what has historically been a lack of post-season success. The 29-year-old is, after all, still the only NBA MVP in history to have never made it beyond the second round.

Another popular complaint regarding Joel Embiid is that he’s overly reliant on foul grifting and that he’s a “free throw merchant.” This might partly account for his shortcomings in the postseason, where NBA refs are known to lose the whistle a bit and let things play out more.

Granted, these complaints are not completely unfounded, but let’s give credit where credit is due. His production has been nothing short of historic and Joel Embiid — at this stage in the season/the time of this writing — is the clear-cut MVP. The moment this guy achieves anything in the playoffs, it won’t be long before he’s listed up there with the all-time great big men.

Subscribe to B.H. Magazine


Share the article