Joel Embiid, aka“The Process” has showed in his first year of NBA action why he drew comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon coming out of college. Embiid’s career got off to a tough start, missing each of his first two seasons with injuries. Now, as a 22 year old rookie, Embiid is showing flashes of dominance in his limited time on the court. To make things even scarier, Embiid is still relatively raw as a basketball player. Unlike many NBA players, Embiid wasn’t playing elite AAU basketball year round from as early as 5th grade. Embiid didn’t start playing organized basketball until 2011, as a 17 year old. Instead he was playing volleyball and soccer in his homeland of Cameroon. With all of this taken into account, it’s truly incredible that Embiid may already be an elite big man in the NBA.
The first thing that stands out when watching Embiid is his size. He is absolutely massive, Embiid is listed at 7 feet tall, which he was out of college, but almost everyone agrees he has grown in his two years since college to stand at about 7 foot 2. One of the benefits for Embiid of missing two seasons was he was able to focus on lifting with the Sixers professional training staff. This has payed off as Embiid is huge, allowing him to bang around in the paint with NBA vets. Embiid pairs his incredible size and strength with athleticism and fluidity that you almost never see from someone at that size. Embiid’s quick feet are what has drawn comparisons to the smoothest big man of all time, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Embiid has not allowed his unique blend of size and athleticism go to waste as he has been great on the court for the Sixers this year. In only about 23 minutes per game (due to the Sixers’ minute restrictions) Embiid is averaging 18.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 2.4 blocks per game, while shooting 48% and a crazy 50% three point percentage. To put those numbers into context, amongst NBA centers, Embiid ranks 4th in points per game, 16th in rebounds per game, and 3rd in blocks per game while only playing 22.8 minutes per game! When you look at stats per 36 minutes his numbers are just insane, 28.6ppg, 12.2 rpg and 3.8 blocks per game. Embiid’s stats have not been empty as many NBA stars stats are, the Sixers are a much better team with Embiid on the court than without him. The Sixers are 3 and 9 on the season when Embiid plays, (25% win percentage) and 1 and 5 (20% win percentage) without him. Defensively in games with Embiid the Sixers allow 105.5 ppg, without him they allow 112.83. For a player who plays only 23 minutes per game that is a huge impact defensively. Embiid’s size allows him to defend other big men in the post while his athleticism and quickness allows him to stick with smaller players on the perimeter when needed. Offensively, in games in which Embiid played at least 20 minutes the Sixers average 101 points per game, while in games in which he doesn’t play or barely plays (less than 20 minutes) the Sixers average about 94 points per game. Clearly the Sixers are a much better team with Embiid rather than without, something that can’t be said for all players who put up numbers such as Jahlil Okafor. Embiid fares very well when you look at advanced stats as well, ranking 22nd in the NBA in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) just behind Karl-Anthony Towns and only five spots away from Lebron James. Embiid also ranks 20th in rebound rate and 4th in usage rate, behind only Russell Westbrook, James Harden and DeMarcus cousins, showing that even as a rookie, he is already the player the Sixers rely upon.
Like all NBA players Embiid has his weaknesses, the biggest of those is his health, Embiid has had foot problems that have held him out his first two season and as Yao Ming showed foot injuries and 7 footers do not mix well. Embiid also struggles with turnovers, as he is 8th worst in the NBA in turnover percentage. While he has his flaws, Embiid has already shown that even as a rookie he is already one of the best big men in the league. With an extremely rare blend of size, athleticism and skill Embiid is well on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s next superstars and maybe even one of the best big men we’ve ever seen.