The Philadelphia 76ers bowed out of yet another second-round playoff series last season, with the most recent loss coming against the Miami Heat. The loss ignited yet another offseason of searching for the right talent to surround superstar center Joel Embiid.
But while depth additions in De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House are nice, as are the welcome additions of “dawg” players in PJ Tucker and Montrezl Harrell, let’s not kid ourselves. Philadelphia’s title hopes rest on the shoulders of one man: Embiid.
He’s more than the Sixers’ best player. Embiid is Philadelphia’s very life force; his presence alone is enough to tilt a series in the Sixers’ favor. And, as fans saw last March, the lack of his presence is enough to derail the ship.
In a generation of uber-talented big men, Embiid is simply one of the best. And the Cameroonian’s multi-faceted game is one of the reasons he landed so high on NBA Insider Andy Bailey’s latest preseason player rankings. According to Bailey, Embiid is the league’s No. 3 player heading into next season.
“A bruising, 90s-style post scorer who can also shoot threes and moneyball his way to 30-plus points. What separates him from the guys in the next tier is the fact that you can build a defense around him, too,” wrote Bailey on September 5 for his personal blog Andy Bailey’s NBA (and other things) Newsletter.
It’s not surprising to see Embiid’s name grace to the top of a preseason list. After all, he’s coming off yet another excellent season.
Joel Embiid Took His Game to Another Level in 2021
Where to begin with Embiid’s stellar 2021-22 season?
Let’s start with perhaps the most impressive. Last season, Embiid became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 to win the scoring title with 30.6 points per game. His 37.1% shooting from three (3.7 attempts per game) was higher than league average, as was his free throw percentage.
The former Jayhawk finished third in win-shares, fourth in defensive win-shares, and fifth in rebounds, lest you think his production was limited to one end of the floor.
It’s that two-way game that saw Embiid land in Bailey’s top tier, listed as “Tier 1A: All-Time Great Big Men.” And Embiid is in an elite company among that select group, which includes only Nikola Jokic (No. 1 overall) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 2 overall).
For the last two seasons, Jokic has been the obstacle preventing Embiid from earning an MVP. And in a league where optics are everything, it’s fair to wonder if Embiid, not Jokic, would sit atop Bailey’s preseason standings had he taken home the individual honors last season.
Joel Embiid to Miss out on MVP yet Again?
With every new season comes yet another renewed quest to secure a Finals run, and lately, an MVP award for Embiid. But according to the experts at ESPN, Embiid is likely to fall short of the honor for a third straight season.
“Jokic may have captured the past two MVP awards, but our panel doesn’t like his chances for a three-peat.
“Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, has the inside track to win his third award but has some company near the top. Both Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid are right on his heels in the voting, and Curry comes in fourth with an outside chance to follow his 2022 Finals MVP with the third regular-season award of his Hall of Fame career,” wrote Tim Bontemps and Kevin Pelton of ESPN back in August.
It would be a tough pill to swallow to see Embiid fall short of MVP yet again, but if he can match his strong offensive production from last season with his defensive abilities, he’ll be in the thick of the race once again.