Just a decade ago, Joel Embiid had only been playing basketball for two years.
Since that time, he played one year of college basketball at Kansas, earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named Second-Team All-Big 12.
His rookie year came in 2016 as the seven-footer would average 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game across 31 contests.
He was a member of the All-Rookie First Team despite his limited appearances.
Fast-forward five seasons and Embiid is a full-blown superstar.
Embiid’s 2021-22 NBA season was nothing short of spectacular.
Averaging 30.6 points per game, he was the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to win the NBA scoring title.
History for Joel Embiid 👏
He's the first center to win the NBA scoring title since Shaq in 1999-2000! pic.twitter.com/iDKsjXr9WW
— ESPN (@espn) April 10, 2022
Embiid did so on impressive efficiency, shooting 50% from the field, 37% from three, and 81% from the free-throw line on an NBA-best 11.8 attempts per game.
His monster scoring numbers went along with 11.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.
All done while posting a career-low turnover percentage and career-high usage percentage.
Not to mention his ability to keep the 76ers together throughout the Ben Simmons drama.
All told, it was one of the most impressive seasons of all time.
However, Embiid must take the next step in superstardom to become a historically great player.
Embiid Must Exorcise Playoff Demons
Three out of the past four postseasons, Philly has been eliminated by the Boston Celtics or the Toronto Raptors.
Embiid was not particularly great in any of those series.
- 2018 vs Celtics: 23 PPG, 14 RPG, 3.6 APG (44% FG, 24% 3P, 71% FT)
- 2019 vs Toronto: 18 PPG, 9 RPG, 3 APG (37% FG, 35% 3P, 84% FT)
- 2020 vs Boston: 30 PPG, 12 RPG, 1 APG (46% FG, 25% 3P, 81% FT)
Both teams were able to stifle Embiid defensively to get him off his rhythm.
Having Simmons on the court did not help as it allowed doubles to come freely without the threat of a shooter being left open.
But regardless, Embiid did not do enough to help his team win – the most important part of postseason basketball.
Embiid has a chance to turn the tides this year.
While a meeting with Boston would not happen until the Eastern Conference Finals, Philly squares off with Toronto in round one this year.
And there will be no Simmons this time around to clog up the offensive end.
As bad as Embiid’s eye numbers were in 2019, his impact was noticeable.
The 76ers were +90 against the Raptors in the playoffs for the 237 minutes Joel Embiid was on the floor.
They were -109 for the 99 minutes Embiid sat against Toronto.
For the entire postseason, Philly was +143 with Embiid on the floor and -107 with him.https://t.co/aB3Ar6MXh8
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) June 14, 2019
Across roughly 237 minutes of game time, Embiid was a +89.
The Sixers during the 99 minutes Embiid sat were -109.
Poor play from the backup center doomed the Sixers that series and it seems possible the story could be the same this year.
Embiid may need to simply play more minutes this time around to ensure that does not happen.
Even the best players of all time get bested by a team in the playoffs.
But the true greats eventually overcome the obstacle on their way to the top.
Embiid must do the same.
Continue To Carry The Team
James Harden may be the best teammate Embiid has ever played with, but the 76ers are still his team.
And this year, he must be the one to carry them game in and game out.
Embiid has proven he can do so in the regular season.
Before Harden arrived and with Simmons refusing to play, Embiid had the Sixers at 35-23 – tied for third in the Eastern Conference.
He averaged 29.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game across 46 of those contests.
Embiid only missed 12 games and nine of them were due to COVID.
For a player with a history of injury concerns, his availability this year has been positive.
Even after Harden’s arrival, Embiid’s play did not diminish.
The Sixers when Joel Embiid and James Harden are on the floor this season (603 minutes):
125.7 offensive rating
109.1 defensive rating
+16.6 net rating
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) April 13, 2022
His averages in 22 games with Harden actually improved – 32.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.
But it is time for Embiid to prove he can do so in the postseason.
Simmons is no longer around, and the team is officially Embiid’s, along with the responsibility to lead it.
He must be ready to handle anything the opposing team may send at him and counter it.
A successful postseason run by Embiid will officially entrench him amongst the NBA’s elite.