I was right all along. For over three years, I’ve been stanning Joel Embiid, and I’m finally being vindicated.
Back in May of 2014, when the Cavalierss miraculously won their third #1 overall pick in four years, the world began to consider the possibility of a LeBron James return to the land. And me, absolutely wanting to see this happen, became a massive Joel Embiid advocate. I didn’t want Cleveland to blow the pick again, and lose their chance at the King. Here’s one of my tweets from three days after the lottery:
As good as Wiggins and Jabari are, in my opinion, Joel Embiid is in a class of his own in terms of potential. @cavs CAN’T pass up on him.
— #StopHarden2017 (@RTSportsTalk) May 24, 2014
My line of thinking was that Embiid was nimble and skilled 7-footer. Lesser-skilled big men have dominated the NBA (think Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal) because of their size alone. Embiid was an imposing force on the block, but had the foot quickness and finishing ability of a guard.
Embiid’s first two years in the league made my sky-high expectations look foolish. He was an injury machine, and looked to heading towards a Greg Oden type career.
He didn’t actually step foot on an NBA court until October of 2016, over two years after he was drafted. But after playing just 31 games last season, he was forced to miss the rest of the year because of–you guessed it–an injury. People aren’t supposed to be 7-feet tall. And when somebody who’s 7-feet tall begins to get injured, it’s a very slippery slope. Greg Oden and Yao Ming are the best examples of this. Even I started to doubt Embiid’s future in the league.
But this season, I’ve been all but vindicated. Head coach Brett Brown is slowly amping up Embiid’s minutes to reduce the stress on his previously injured knee and foot. And in those limited minutes, he’s establishing himself as one of the league’s best players, with the potential to become an all-timer.
Check out this scattergram of points vs rebounds per 36 minutes with current Embiid compared to the best season of some all-time greats:
Keep in mind, the stats for Olajuwon, Duncan, Robinson, O’Neal, Malone, and Abdul-Jabbar are from their best statistical seasons. Embiid is only in his age-22 season and is right up there with them.
Barring any more injuries, this guy can be all-time great. He has the physique, footwork, and post moves of Hakeem Olajuwon, but is more willing and able to step outside and knock down a three. He hasn’t gotten to the point where he’s a consistent three-point shooter, but he’ll get there, and it’s going to be a dark day for the rest of the NBA when he does.
We’re in a league of specialized big men. Either you stay within 5 feet of the basket at all times (like DeAndre Jordan) or stand at the three point line most of the time (like Kevin Love). Joel Embiid can excel in both, and that may very well make him one of the greatest big men of all-time. And it’s just what I’ve been saying since the beginning.