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Dirk Nowitzki says 76ers star Joel Embiid is the hybrid of two legendary big men

From Dirk Nowitzki's point of view, Joel Embiid is a mix of finesse and power.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki and Joel Embiid

NBA fans and analysts love to compare current players with their predecessors or contemporaries. It’s a way for them to make sense of everything, especially when they’re talking about a generational athlete. Dirk Nowitzki, a generational star himself, tried to parse out Joel Embiid’s playstyle. And two iconic basketball figures entered his mind.

Shaq and Hakeem

Nowitzki entered the league in 1998 as the ninth overall pick. The term stretch-4 wasn’t invented yet, but some seven-footers like him had a soft touch. Also, some big men used their brute strength on offense and defense. Looking at Embiid, Nowitzki recalled the effortless finesse of Hakeem Olajuwon and the power of Shaquille O’Neal.

I feel like he’s got the body of a little smaller Shaq, but he’s got the shot from the outside. He’s got the finesse like Hakeem a little bit, the footwork. All the best centers that ever played, he’s got to rank up there with all of them for his all-around game — inside, outside, defense. He loves blocking shots. You can tell he gets energized off of it. He’s a force on both ends, so he’s got to rank up there with the best of them,” Nowitzki said, per Takeoff with John Clark: Philly Sports Interviews.

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From the looks of it, Nowitzki likes what he’s seeing in today’s game. While the 3-point shot is now considered the most lethal weapon, the big men and their traditional post-up game haven’t gone completely extinct.

Rather unique

Embiid is an outlier in today’s game. He isn’t as mobile as Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. But he isn’t as slow and calculative as Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. At the same time, Joel has a smoother stroke than both, and his post-up technique is better than both former league MVPs.

Embiid has been in the MVP race for the last couple of years. James Harden’s arrival in Philly might eventually boot him out. It’s not because the Beard will eventually overshadow him. It’s because Harden’s ball-heavy playstyle will likely take away all the attention from the big man. And this is not a bad thing.

If Harden and Embiid mesh well, then the Cameroonian has all the right to be mentioned alongside Dirk, Shaq, and Hakeem. Embiid could call himself a champion and one of the best bigs in history. It's all up to him.

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