Joel Embiid’s streak of eight consecutive games with at least 30 points came to an end in their 111-99 win over the Boston Celtics, leaving him tied with the legendary Wilt Chamberlain and iconic Allen Iverson for the franchise-best mark.
Anytime a record owned by Chamberlain is even remotely close to being broken is a special feat. His single game career-highs in points (100) and rebounds (55) remain two of the most untouchable milestones in league history.
Embiid had a chance to overtake the 13-time NBA All-Star with another 30-outing but wound up five points short with “just” 25 along with 13 rebounds and six assists. His modest output, compared with his statistics over the past few weeks where he has torn apart the rest of the league, was more because of how lopsided the game was from the opening tip rather than anything else.
That is even better news for the Sixers, who are now 24-17 on the season and back on track following a stretch bridging last November and December where they were plagued by injuries and COVID-19 protocols. They are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference and are tied with the fourth place Milwaukee Bucks in the loss column. Philadelphia is also within striking distance of the higher seeds with a mere two losses separating them from the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets who are tied for the second seed.
They have capitalized on a relatively soft portion of the schedule, winning eight of their last nine games, with six of those victories coming by a double-digit winning margin. It is no coincidence that their strongest showing of the season is concurrent with Embiid finding his top form.
What makes the season that he has had so far even more impressive is that he is the only top tier player on their roster. The other five teams ahead of them in the standings–the Chicago Bulls, the Heat, the Nets, and the Bucks–all have multiple players who are in the conversation for the NBA All-Star game this year.
Aside from the brilliance of Embiid, the Sixers have made up for their lack of star power with a roster that fits perfectly around their four-time NBA All-Star. Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, and, to a lesser extent, Shake Milton can all shoot it at a decent clip while they also possess the ability to create their own shot over short stretches.
Seth Curry remains a lights out three-point shooter and continues to build chemistry with Embiid, especially in their lethal two-man game actions. Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, and Danny Green are streaky shooters as well, while defensive specialist Matisse Thybulle makes up for his lack of shooting with smart cuts to the basket.
They all contribute to spacing the floor around Embiid which gives him all the room that he needs to operate on offense. While most of his per game averages this year–27.1 points, 80.9% shooting on 10.7 free throw attempts, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.4 blocks–remain close to his career average, he has made a notable jump in assists without Ben Simmons running their offense from 2.8 a night last season to 4.3 this time around.
Embiid’s bigger load as a playmaker and their undisputed focal point whenever he is on the floor is reflected by his 35.1% usage rate, which trails only Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. An underrated factor that has allowed the Sixers to lean so heavily on Embiid is the solid play that back-up center Andre Drummond has provided which helps keep him fresh and his minutes at a manageable level.
If Embiid can continue playing at this blistering pace and Philadelphia remains close to the top of the East, there is no doubt that he belongs in this year’s Most Valuable Player conversation. He was already the runner-up last season and may have even won the award if not for a knee injury that cost him several games late in their regular season campaign.
The case for Stephen Curry has taken a slight hit recently, while Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo are expected to emerge as his main opposition as the year winds down. Embiid’s status as the lone star on this team should only boost his case and the time is ripe to give him the recognition for the dominant two-way force that he has become.
There was a time when the question of “Embiid or Simmons” was validly floated around with regards to which direction the Sixers should go with their future. They obviously made the right choice by siding with Embiid and it looks like a no-brainer now as he continues his quest to join the pantheon of the greatest centers in league history.