Philly and Joel Embiid announce their presence with authority
After a double loss in extra time to the mediocre Houston Rockets on December 5, the Philadelphia 76ers are a .500 ball club. Doc River, Joel Embiid. Skipping nearly two months and 24 games, they are leading 32-16 and losing to Boston in the losing column to take first place in the East. Those distressed expressions are still there, but that’s just the look of Doc, James, and Joel.
The Sixers have been leading 20-4 in their last few dozen games, and now we’re in full view after beating the best team in the West: Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets. Philly recovered from a short first half and overcame the Nuggets 68-46 in the last two innings to win 126-119.
Embiid approaches the game with consecutive MVP reigning as you’d expect. While Joker’s final line is good by most standards, 24, 9 and 8 are child’s play as the competition runs at 47, 18, and 6. Embiid once again leads the NBA league in numbers. points per game, and you’d think a lot of people would notice that he’s 7 feet tall and weighs 280 pounds.
I backed Embiid for MVP a season ago even after Daryl Morey reunited with his #1 guy, because the big man is unstoppable. If Harden had appeared in Harden mode in the first place, Embiid could have taken home the prize he was so embarrassed about. (More on that later.)
Embiid is as unique as Jokić
I understand that Jokić can make a meal worthy of a 3 Michelin star restaurant out of squirrels and barking. It’s great. The departure is contagious, all of that. It’s just… I’ve never seen the center point in many ways like Embiid.
JoJo has everything in his offensive repertoire short of a sky hook and a Dream Shake — which are other guys’ signature moves. Every big man has something. Shaq O’Neal savaged anyone who stepped in the paint. Timmy Duncan would kill you with bank shots and fundamentals. Even Jokić has a little one-legged fadeaway and those low-post touch shots that he relies on.
Embiid doesn’t rely on anything but his teammates feeding him the ball. Think about it. He never really repeats the same move. The 120-pack of Crayola colors is his thing. It’s reached a point offensively where he goes through his bag like there’s an XP bonus for combo variations completed in a game.
The scouting report on Embiid is to hope he shoots threes and long twos. Well, he’s only attempting three shots from deep per night, and is hitting 56 percent of everything he puts up inside the arc. Jokić is such an anomaly that analytics folks obsess over him, and overlook the other precious metal in the room.
Adamantium may not have as many uses as vibranium, but it’s still fucking sharp as shit. Plus, adamantium might be able to cut through vibranium, according to a cursory Google search I just did, but it was unclear, and I don’t have time to go down that rabbit hole. I also don’t have time to explain why I compared Embiid to adamantium and not vibranium even though the latter and the center are both from Africa so I’m going to move on.
Let’s show some restraint, Philly
The Sixers over-campaigned a year ago and it turned off voters. Clearly the route is to let the organization do the promotion and have the player give team-first quotes to the media. Act like you don’t care about anything but the team. Or anything. During the Nuggets-76ers broadcast Saturday, the ABC crew said Jokić was at the track when he was announced as an all-star starter — an honor Embiid did not get this year.
Morey came to his big man’s defense, and of course he just overdid it. I don’t understand how the “shameless Boston media” prevented Embiid from being voted starter, but that’s GM Philly’s argument. We are looking for more “compassionate children” than “small children”.
Basketball fans also have an “I have to see it” view of Harden, and no one wants to hear a word from him until after a few wins in May and June.
Keep banners and hashtags in a drawer and get to work. If Embiid wants to win it, go out there and claim the final #1 seed. Win another 20 out of 24. Keep dominating quietly as it will get noticed. Some Denver fans couldn’t even watch Jokić because he was buried after a local TV contract dispute and a cloud of weed smoke, and he still won — twice.
Everyone here is staring at you, Joel. You don’t have to keep an eye on everyone who catches your eye.