Joel Embiid has been the subject of criticism throughout much of his career. He’s no stranger to it. The former players, the Hall of Famers or former All-Stars that the major networks like to hire on television especially, have tended to give him a hard time over the years. Much of their shtick focuses around how he plays out on the perimeter too much. And often the whole thing comes off sounding transparently self-serving — former players and legends putting current guys down in order to prop themselves up. Shaquille O’Neal always seems to complain that guys don’t barbecue enough chicken like he used to and blah blah blah.
They tend not to take into consideration how much the game has changed. Sometimes it can also take on a tone of the game now is for wimps, when we played we were much tougher, and took a real beating. That’s what they need to do. Get your butt in the post and punish! Even though that stuff doesn’t work in today’s modern NBA.
And recently, a player Embiid has famously studied in the past in Rockets two-time champ Hakeem Olajuwon, appeared to take a bit of a dig at Embiid’s shot selection.
Per Chris Ballard, writing for SI Now, here’s what The Dream had to say about Joel’s game:
“He’s got all the moves, but leveraging the moves is different. Why would he be shooting threes?” Olajuwon asks. “He has the advantage every night, and if I have the advantage, I’m going to wear you out.”
But threes? “That’s settling! When I’m tired, I settle. You don’t settle when you’re trying to win. You don’t start the game settling!”
Adding a bit of insult to the injury, Olajuwon called Denver Nuggets big, the dude who won back-to-back MVPs the last two seasons while Embiid finished as runner up, “the one.”
Ballard’s piece on the lost art of post moves, continued:
“He doesn’t look strong, but I see he gets such deep post position. I think maybe it’s the mismatch, but then he does the same thing against bigger guys. His shot, his fakes, they are very difficult to time. You don’t know when he’s faking and when it’s real. He has tricks!”
Olajuwon nods. “He’s the one.”
So if we’re comfortable assuming Joel was alluding to this stuff (I am, even if you’re not), we can also assume these quotes stung him a bit. Not only is the subject of him vs. Jokic probably a sore spot, it’s coming from an all-timer Joel has spent countless hours studying and emulating.
Embiid has referred to Hakeem as “one of my idols,” and his “favorite all time” player.
In that video above, compiled by Joel’s long-time skills trainer Drew Hanlen, you can see the obvious in-game comparisons. It’s almost reminiscent of how closely Kobe Bryant once studied Michael Jordan. So much of that footwork is spot on. That’s no accident. That takes lots of film work and practice.
But after the Sixers’ fourth win in a row on their current road trip, a 105-95 win vs. the Blazers, Embiid, unprompted, seemed to clap back at the apparent dig by his (former) idol.
First, Embiid was asked by our Jackson Frank about his rapport in the pick-and-roll with James Harden. How has that learning process evolved?
“I think from the beginning, it was easy. I mentioned a couple days ago, when you got two guys with a high basketball IQ, you can figure out everything easily.”
So right away he’s talking about high b-ball IQ and how he and James have it.
And then, the superstar was asked about how comfy he’s looked around the elbow area specifically, (the spot where he drained recent game-winners in both Utah and L.A.)
That’s when he morphed before reporter’s eyes directly into Troel.
“From the time that [Doc Rivers] got there, the first thing he told me I need to figure out where I want the ball. And obviously, before it was in the post. But like I mentioned in the past, posting up, posting all game long, it’s easy to double. It’s funny, when you got these old guys always talking about posting up, need to spend time in the paint and and all that stuff, you can’t win this way anymore. It’s not the freakin’ 90’s or 80’s like it used to be so they must not have any basketball IQ. But, going back to what I was saying like [Rivers] just, he told me that I need to find the area on the floor that I was gonna be the most comfortable with. Obviously me and Drew [Hanlen] we study a lot. So we just started figuring out ‘OK, where can I be a better playmaker and when can I be a better scorer without being doubled and without being easy to double.’”
So there you have it. Maybe Joel would play it coy and say he hasn’t even heard of the Hakeem quotes. Joel posted this nearly a year ago when Ben Simmons was traded and when asked about it, said he just like the dude’s outfit. Lol!
For what it’s worth, Joel is shooting 3.2 triples per game. He takes 21 shots, so it’s not a ton of threes. He’s connecting on a decent 35 percent. Nikola Jokic is shooting 2.3 triples at 37 percent. Just one less per outing for Joker.
Both players take 15 percent of their field goal attempts from distance.
My two cents? If I had to guess, I’d guess that Olajuwon didn’t really mean to imply Joel shoots too many threes and Jokic doesn’t. But he did certainly hint as to his preference between the two in terms of post play. Again, the SI piece was about posting up, “a lost art.”
But those dang aggregators did their job to turn it into a Olajuwon prefers Jokic to Joel type deal.
Olajuwon on Embiid:“He’s got all the moves, but leveraging the moves is different. Why would he be shooting threes?”— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) January 18, 2023
Hakeem on Jokic:“His shot, his fakes, they are very difficult to time. You don’t know when he’s faking and when it’s real. He has tricks! He’s the one.”
But if they had started to ask Dream questions about let’s say defense, and the lost art of two-way star centers scoring in bunches while protecting the paint, something tells me he would have painted Joel in a more favorable light.
Still, you can see why Joel (assuming he didn’t mean someone else altogether or missed these quotes) might feel stung reading viral quotes hinting that his idol prefers Jokic in any comp or measure.
Anyway, the Sixers are now tied for second place in the East. And Embiid is on an absolute, both-ends-of-the-floor rampage. His true shooting percentage is 64.4 percent. When Olajuwon was 28 years old, his TS percentage was 55 percent. So I think Joel’s shot selection is working out just fine for now.