Monday, February 26, 2024
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Joel Embiid is a seven-foot sun, and the Sixers are constantly revolving around him

I’m not quite sure how to say this, but doesn’t it feel like Joel Embiid is sort of flying under the radar this season? It’s not like the guy’s in witness protection or anything, but relatively speaking, as the league’s leading scorer by an appreciable margin and its reigning MVP, am I crazy to think he’s almost playing second fiddle in the headlines to his teammate, Tyrese Maxey

I get it. Maxey, though he’s been very good from day one in Philly, is the new kid in the conversation and a direct connect to the league’s juiciest drama as James Harden’s replacement, making him an even bigger breath of fresh air by comparison. 

But Embiid is averaging over 33 points a game, people. He dropped a 50-piece against the Wizards on Wednesday. He threw in 13 rebounds and seven assists for good measure, joining Wilt Chamberlain in 76ers history with his fourth career game with at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. 

Perhaps the greatest compliment we can pay a superstar is to take their great feats for granted. We do it all the time with Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic triple-doubles (by the way, Doncic notched the highest-scoring first-half trip-dub in history on Wednesday with 29/10/10 through the first 24 minutes against Utah). 

We’ve been doing it to LeBron James for years. What that man is doing this season, his 21st, at 39 years old, is grounds for some sort of genetic study. But we hardly talk about it anymore. We just expect it. 

Same for Giannis. And Curry. You can only go gaga so many times before superhuman stuff starts to damn near bore you. 

To me, it seems like we’re going down the same road with Embiid, who has been routinely masterful this season, arguably better than last season when he won MVP, amid a sort of ho-hum reception. 

Over the last five weeks, Embiid has scored at least 30 points in all but four games, and in three of those he had 26, 27 and 28. Last Monday, before he missed two games against New Orleans and Boston (illness), he put 30 points and 11 assists on the Lakers

The assists are the major uptick this season. He’s recorded at least five in each of his last nine games, and 27 over his past three. This isn’t a Jokic situation. Embiid isn’t dicing up double teams with no-look dimes, but the flow of Nick Nurse’s system is offering up a buffet of dribble-handoffs as Embiid, who’s up six front-court touches per game from last season, serves as a sort of seven-foot sun around which his teammates are constantly revolving. 

Look at the tempo of those possessions. One DHO right into the next, ’round and ’round and sometimes ’round again in a state of perpetual motion. 

Under the Rivers regime and with Harden at the helm, Philly’s half-court offense had all the energy of a two-man survey crew with three guys leaning on their shovels in the corner snacking on sandwiches. 

Now everyone is eating, with Embiid setting the table to the tune of 1.06 points per DHO possession, which ranks sixth league-wide, per Synergy. Last year, the Sixers ranked 13th at under one point per DHO. 

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All told, Embiid is assisting on almost 34% of Philly’s buckets when he’s on the floor, which ranks as the second-highest assist percentage among all big men, trailing only Jokic, of course. 

Some of the shooting numbers don’t jump off the page, but Embiid’s face-up game remains deadly and he still gets to the free-throw line more than anyone in the league by a wide margin. 

All of which is to say, Embiid is absolutely dominating. Again. Even as it’s become easier and easier to take for granted. 

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