The Sixers’ top stars, James Harden and Joel Embiid, may have grown accustomed to annual All-Star appearances in their highly successful careers, but receiving that honor still doesn’t get old. Once again, it’s that time of year for voting, fierce discussions on Twitter, and of course, talking about who’s been snubbed.
Now that the first group of All-Stars is set with the starting lineups in place (with Embiid left out), Harden and Embiid were asked about their thoughts on this year’s All-Star game following the Sixers’ 105-94 win against the Magic on Wednesday night.
“Yeah, I mean, you’re one of the best players in the league,” Harden said when asked if making All-Star teams still has significance to him. “I’m not gonna sit over here and say I should be an All-Star and make a case or anything like that. The numbers show it, our seed shows it, so I think it would be my 11th in a row.
“So obviously it’s always an honor, you never want to take that for granted. It means you’re doing something right, making an impact on your team and on the game. So if my name is called then great. If not, then bigger and better goals for the season.”
Harden’s numbers certainly do show it. Overall he’s been having a fantastic season with his adjusted, improved shot profile, and increased efficiency and production. He’s been better across the board, from his three-point shooting (38.6 percent, up from 32.6 percent in Philadelphia last season), to how well he’s attacking the paint, to his polished pick-and-roll mastery with Embiid. Averages of 21.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists per game with a 61.4 true shooting percentage are definitely very All-Star-like (if not All-NBA) numbers.
It’s now up to coaches to choose the All-Star reserves (which will be revealed on Feb. 2) and confirm whether Harden will make the cut. He sure looks primed to make it.
Then there’s the matter of Embiid, who’s missed out on being an All-Star starter. Which, when considering the safe assumption that he’ll be a reserve, will make it his first year as an All-Star where he’s not a starter. He finished third in the media and player voting, but a fourth-place finish in the fan vote is what cost him the most and sent him behind the eventual East starting frontcourt trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum.
“I don’t know if I’m gonna be an All-Star,” Embiid said on Wednesday when asked about the significance of being named an All-Star reserve again. “You never know,” he joked.
“Like I said the other day, I’m used to the disrespect so I will not be surprised if I don’t make it, so we shall see,” he added. “If I don’t make it, it’s whatever. If I do, it’s a blessing, every single year, starter or not. [I’m] competitive, so obviously you want to be the best and I feel like I put myself in a position to be up there and the best. It’s disappointing but that’s not what matters, like I keep saying, I feel like we have an opportunity to accomplish something big, so that’s where the focus is.”
Clearly the competition is awfully tough for Embiid, going against the likes of Giannis, Durant and Tatum. But it’s also awfully hard to deny that he belongs in the top five, starting group for his conference. With a league-leading average of 33.6 points per game to go along with exceptional, career-best efficiency (a 64.1 true shooting percentage), 10.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.7 blocks, plus stellar defense when he wants to turn it on, he hardly could’ve done much more to strengthen his case to be a starter.
Again, this is another reminder that the NBA should just remove positional labels entirely in voting for the All-Star and All-NBA teams. Why not use a system that simply lets the best players, regardless of position, receive these honors?
Ultimately like Harden said, the Sixers have bigger and better goals for this season than a couple of All-Star nods. For players like Harden and Embiid who’ve already become familiar with far loftier personal accolades like All-NBA teams and MVP awards, an All-Star appearance (or whether they started the game or came off the bench) won’t stand out much in the future when looking back at their resumes. That said, players understandably want to be recognized appropriately for their level of play.
Harden has made it clear that he’s easily All-Star level this year, while Embiid can use the rest of the season to continue dominating, leading the NBA in scoring, and making yet another strong case for a more important (and overdue) award: MVP.