Good things every so often take time, and for Joel Embiid, the promise that came with his arrival in the NBA has slowly but surely been fulfilled.
Health issues have hounded his career especially early on, yet that hasn’t stopped him from building a case for himself each season. The 2022-2023 NBA Season is slated to have one of the tighter MVP races among big men, it’s quite the accomplishment for the Cameroonian to add another feather into his cap by earning the NBA scoring title, which up until the last few days of the regular season, was a tight race as well.
Not only is Embiid the first center since Shaquille O’Neal (1999-2000 Season) to win the league scoring title, but he is also the first international player to do so. That he did it in emphatic fashion (and by averaging 30 points while playing less than 40 minutes per game) only adds credence to his latest achievement.
Embiid finished the regular season with an average of 30.6 points per game, a career-high boosted by career-best figures in field goal, 3-point field goal, and free throw attempts and makes. Being the undisputed first option certainly helps, but the former Kansas Jayhawk continues to produce at an elite level despite being the main target of opposing defenses.
Leading the league in scoring is a great achievement in itself, but considering the circumstances surrounding Embiid’s career, it has to be put in a much different light.
To qualify as a league leader, a player must play at least 58 games, which is equivalent to 70 percent of an 82-game season. Embiid played in 68 games in 2022-2023, the most he’s ever played in a regular season. Durability has always been Embiid’s greatest obstacle and an awkward landing here and there has derailed some potentially strong campaigns for the Philadelphia 76ers. Nevertheless, the three-time All-NBA Selection’s talent and production, when healthy, have always kept in the conversation, even during his rookie campaign.
Beyond his health, his achievement comes after what started out as a turbulent season for the 76ers, who had to deal with the fallout from last season’s playoff exit, which ended with Ben Simmons being traded to the Brooklyn Nets and James Harden moving to Philadelphia. The 76ers went 14-7 in the regular season whenever Harden has played, but that is a small sample size to make especially when he did not have a full training camp with the team.
Embiid’s offensive emergence also comes at a time when NBA centers have become more versatile, with the likes of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, and even Giannis Antetokounmpo changing the way the center position is played. They all continue to have back-to-the-basket foundations, but face-up games, 3-point shooting, and playmaking all while taking responsibility as defensive anchors are now the norm. On his part, Embiid makes it look easy.
Taken together, though, all these developments should help give Embiid and the rest of Philadelphia confidence heading into the playoffs. Wear and tear will certainly still be a concern for the five-time All-Star so the 76ers could proceed with caution, but conversely, those 14 games came largely due to Embiid’s bout with COVID-19, which while a tough battle, is something he seems to have fully recovered from already.
In the playoffs, the games slow down and that would work well for Embiid, who will then get to operate on the low block or wherever he finds a mismatch to exploit. However, defenses are much more intricate in the playoffs, as planning is now focused on one-team over the course of two weeks.
The next few weeks will present an opportunity for Joel Embiid to shed the label of coming up short, especially when factors beyond his control are slowly taking a backseat. Winning the NBA scoring title is one of the many indications of how the Philadelphia 76ers run through him and they will need him to channel his regular season success as they try to fulfill their title aspirations.