Joel Embiid’s rookie season has been nothing short of incredible. After missing the first two seasons of his career as he rehabbed a broken navicular bone in his right foot, the 22-year-old has made an immediate impact.
Embiid is currently averaging 17.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from beyond the arc. In the team’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, his fourth double-double in 11 games.
Sixers teammate Nik Stauskas (who is having a really good year himself) recently sung Embiid’s praises on an episode of Sauce & Co., his new podcast.
He was dominating all the scrimmages we had, but playing in the NBA and playing a real game situation is different than five-on-fives when no one’s there, and to see him transfer over all those things he was doing in the scrimmages right to an NBA game so quickly — he’s 14 games into his NBA career — it’s unbelievable, and it’s kinda scary to think about what it will look like when he’s two to three years into his career and the game starts completely slowing down for him and he really figures it out. Because then — I dream big — but I see a guy like him...there’s no reason why he can’t be a 30 and 15 guy in this league. He’s so much bigger than everyone else. He has the skill set to post people up. He has the skill set to finish around the basket. He can step out to the mid-range, he can step out to three. He’s the number one three point shooter on our team right now.
Only six players have ever averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds in a season, and predictably they’re all members of the Basketball Hall of Fame (Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Bellamy, Bob McAdoo, Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit).
Those are certainly lofty goals bestowed by Stauskas upon The Process, but maybe it’s not too crazy for him to be somewhere in that ballpark. Embiid is doing a remarkable amount of damage for someone who is averaging less than 23 minutes per game, and his per-36 numbers equate to 28.3 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
His rebounding numbers have been solid. Embiid’s rebound chance percentage is ninth amongst centers who play a minimum of 20 minutes per game, and his contested rebound percentage is good for tenth under the same parameters.
As Stauskas alluded to, Embiid’s multi-faceted offensive game is a large factor behind his early scoring success.
Embiid is eighth in the NBA in three-point percentage (minimum of 20 attempts), and now that defenders are forced to guard him all the way out to the perimeter, he’s beginning to catch them with ball fakes and drive to the rim. In the post, he’s using his ginormous frame to establish solid positioning, and has good enough footwork to make quick work of opposing bigs. His mid-range game is silky, and he uses the jab step to create enough space to fire up his jumper.
So far, it seems as though there are only two things holding Embiid back from complete dominance: a high turnover rate and the minutes restriction. Currently, Embiid’s turnover percentage is 21.9 percent, and he’s averaging 4.2 turnovers per game.
A good portion of that has to do with how much offense he’s forced to create on his own. According to NBA.com’s SportVU data, nearly 56 percent of his two-point field goals have come unassisted. Embiid has a tendency to over dribble as he tries to position himself closer to the rim, and his loose ball handling has resulted in some easy strips. The Sixers are still lacking other consistent offensive threats, so teams are beginning to double down on Embiid, resulting in even more takeaways.
The solution to that problem (other than just more experience) will be the eventual debut of point guard Ben Simmons. Once he enters the lineup, Philadelphia will have a dual-threat ball handler whose skill set should open up more opportunities for Embiid. Simmons’ passing ability will consistently put him in positions to score, effectively cutting down on those high turnover numbers and resulting in more easy buckets around the rim. Embiid is already averaging 1.26 points per possession running the pick and roll with Sergio Rodriguez, who defenses already know isn’t really a threat to score off the dribble. Imagine replacing him with a 6-foot-10, 240 lbs. guard who can finish at the rim and serve passes on a silver platter.
In terms of the minutes restriction, that’s something Embiid has no control over, as evident by his displeasure in sitting out the second overtime of the Sixers’ loss to Memphis on Wednesday. Head coach Brett Brown has said the team will re-evaluate his 24 minute restriction around Christmas time. It’s hard to imagine him not playing in the 30 minute range by the end of the year if his body continues to hold up, with the eventual goal to get rid of the restriction by next season. The more he’s able to play, the more jaw-dropping those numbers will become.
Once Embiid is able to play without a time limit hanging over his head, and he’s joined on the floor by Simmons, a 30 and 15 stat line somewhere down the line might not seem nearly as far fetched.