For most players, 41 points on 14-of-17 shooting is a career night. For Joel Embiid this season, it’s just another day at the office. The Philadelphia 76ers center dominated the Indiana Pacers Saturday to give his team its 50th win of the season, and in the process put a cherry on top of his remarkable season. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James out for their season finales Sunday, Embiid has, barring something historic, clinched the scoring title at 30.6 points per game.
James and Embiid had been neck and neck for the past few weeks, but James missing the end of the Lakers season means he will have played just 56 total games. A player needs to have played 58 to retain eligibility for the scoring title. Antetokounmpo would have needed 47 points to catch even a scoreless Embiid on Sunday, and far more if Embiid had played and racked up his usual total. Embiid is the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the scoring title, and just the fourth since 1976 to do so.
Beyond the scoring title, Embiid made another bit of offensive history on Saturday. Even if he plays and goes scoreless Sunday, he will finish the season averaging more than 30 points. That makes him the first center in 40 years to average 30 points per game in a season. Stars like David Robinson (29.8 in 1994), Shaquille O’Neal (29.7 in 2000) and Patrick Ewing (28.6 in 1990) all came close, but none reached the threshold since Moses Malone in 1982.
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Malone is an appropriate comparison for Embiid. He won three MVP awards during his Hall of Fame career. Embiid is trying to win his first and has publicly lobbied for the honor. Malone won a championship with the 76ers. Embiid is trying to lead Philadelphia to its first NBA title since.
He still has a long way to go on that front. The 76ers are currently slated for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, not an ideal launching point for a championship run. Should they face the Toronto Raptors in the first round, they will be without unvaccinated wing Matisse Thybulle in their road games. James Harden has struggled lately, and the trade for him deprived the 76ers of key depth.
But their constant throughout all of this has been Embiid. He kept the team afloat before Harden arrived. He has led them even afterward. He is having one of the greatest offensive seasons a big man has ever had in NBA history, and now, that season is going to be recognized in the history books forever.