Philadelphia 76ers superstar center Joel Embiid is currently doing something that only two players have done in NBA history, and their names are Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain.
With Tuesday’s insane performance in a victory over the Boston Celtics still fresh in the minds of Sixers fans, Embiid is now approaching a historic statistical accomplishment that has not been achieved in exactly 20 seasons. While “Wilt the Stilt” averaged at least 12 free throw attempts in eight of his 15 seasons – including the first seven of his career and once with the Sixers – Chamberlain played in a different era and was a truly one-of-a-kind performer.
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Shaq was as unique of a player you’d find too – standing in at over 7-feet tall and 325 pounds – and his 9.3 free throw attempts per game across his career were largely due to the “Hack-a-Shaq” tactic installed by teams across the Association.
Despite the frequently-used strategy to intentionally foul O’Neal, he only averaged more than Embiid’s current figure of 11.8 once in his entire 19-year career. That came in the 2000-2001 campaign with the Lakers, when “Diesel” posted 13.1 attempts from the charity stripe per contest.
Embiid is Way Better at Shooting Free Throws Than Shaq and Wilt
Most casual NBA fans are very well familiar with Shaq’s free throw issues – the “Scary Movie” franchise even poked fun at his struggles – but unless you’re over the age of 70 or are really into basketball history, you may not know about Chamberlain’s problems at the line. The all-time leader for points in a game only shot above 60% from the line in a season once in his career and made under 50% of his attempts an astounding six times. When his playing days were over, Chamberlain finished with a 51.1% success rate at the free throw line.
Shaq may have been better than Chamberlain with free throws, but not by much. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductee went above 60% from the line once across his 20 seasons, while making under 50% in seven different seasons. O’Neal finished his otherwise stellar career as a 52.7% free throw shooter.
Embiid meanwhile, though still somewhat early in his NBA journey, is shooting 80.3% on free throws in his 242 games across four-plus seasons. The 27-year-old has never made it through a full, healthy season and has had more injuries to worry about this year. With at least 31 contests played in over the past five seasons now though, there is enough of a sample size to see that Embiid is far and away a different kind of player than Chamberlain and O’Neal were when it comes to making free throws.
Buoyed by his 16-for-20 outing on free throws earlier in the week against the Celtics, Embiid is now making a career-high 10.1 of his 11.8 free throws per game, good for a career-best 84.9%.
Can Embiid Still Win MVP After Missing Time With Injury?
Philadelphia enters Friday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans with a stellar 35-16 record, just a half game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Their oft-injured best player has played in 33 of the 51 contests, good for about 65% of the games.
There’s been no doubt that when Embiid has been on the court, he’s been capable of taking over a game at any given moment and can almost singlehandedly carry Philly to a win. But given his lengthy injury history, Sixers fans have to now hold their collective breath any time number 21 goes down to the floor, for however brief of a moment.
After starting out the season 0-4 in games without Embiid, the Sixers have learned to win without the focal point of their offense and are now a respectable 9-9 without his services. Have the 18 missed games taken Embiid out of the NBA’s MVP race though? According to NBA.com Senior Writer Michael C. Wright’s most recent Kia MVP Ladder, not at all.
Wright currently has Embiid ranked third on the ladder – up from seventh last week – and he trails only Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. With still over 20 games to go in the Sixers’ regular season, if Embiid can stay healthy and continue to dominate, he could become the first Sixers MVP since Allen Iverson in the 2000-2001 season.