Over the last two seasons, few players have had the same level of individual success as Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid.
The former Kansas Jayhawk has fully blossomed into the player many expected when he was selected third in the 2014 draft: a player who is the focal point of both the offense and defense. Over the last two years, the Sixers’ playoff hopes have risen and fallen with Embiid’s health and play.
In terms of accolades, Embiid has managed singularly great regular seasons, despite falling short of the MVP award twice in two years. Last season, he became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the league’s scoring title. The season before, he earned an All-Defense Second Team nod. He’s an impact player on both ends of the floor, no question about it.
And Sixers GM Daryl Morey understands that fact. During training camp last week, Morey opened up about what makes Embiid great, heaping high praise on the Cameroonian big man in the process.
“What I love about Joel is every offseason, he’s adding something. He’s the most skilled big man I’ve ever been around. And he works on his game and shows it. His ability to handle the ball and shoot from all areas of the floor and different kinds is super unique. And he puts that work in so he can show it on the floor,” Morey explained to SiriusXM on September 29.
Morey also discussed the team’s stance on potentially load-managing Embiid’s minutes next season in order to boost its chances for a title.
Morey: ‘We Have to Start Talking About a Different Narrative’
After dominating the Toronto Raptors in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Sixers looked to have a date with destiny, i.e. the Eastern Conference Finals.
But after Embiid went down with a facial fracture last season, the Sixers crashed out of the playoffs, falling to the Miami Heat in six games in the semifinals. It was a humiliating defeat, especially considering how poor James Harden played during Embiid’s absence.
Embiid’s shaky injury history only amplifies the call to manage his regular-season minutes in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs. During that chat with SiriusXM, Morey explained the team’s position on potentially limiting Embiid’s playing time during the season.
“In terms of managing him through the season, I think we have to start talking about a different narrative with him, which is, he’s had the best seasons of his career under Doc Rivers. Because of the work he’s put in, he’s had his most successful time managing his way through the season,” Morey said.
Morey’s point is a valid one: Embiid has been MVP runner-up in each of the last two seasons under Doc Rivers’ tutelage. And last season, Embiid’s facial fracture came on a bang-bang play against the Raptors; it wasn’t the product of any soreness or over-playing.
Embiid hasn’t shied away from giving his take on load management, opening up to reporters last season on the subject.
Embiid: ‘I Don’t Agree With Load Management
Earlier in Embiid’s career, he was the subject of a severe minutes restriction as the Sixers looked to not overwork its young star. After all, Embiid was coming off serious injuries that kept him out of his first two years in the NBA.
But in hindsight, Embiid would have done things differently.
“The more I play, the better it gets, because if I’m playing every two days, that means I don’t get out of shape,” Embiid explained to reporters last April. “I keep continuing what I’ve been doing and I stayed healthier. Looking back on it, I don’t agree with load management.”
Even if Embiid would have done things differently, it’s hard to argue with the progress he’s made since coming into the league. Perhaps load management stifled his growth, but on the other hand, it could have limited any potential long-term damage. Regardless, Embiid has put in the work to get where he is now: a bonafide MVP candidate.