As if this year's NBA MVP race hasn't been already tight and packed with the likes of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, we have a new name in the conversation. Sixers center Joel Embiid has amped up his game lately so much that you have to seat him at the MVP table. His coach Doc Rivers is so impressed with the big man that he compared him to some of the game's greats.
Bringing back the center position
The NBA was in a massive drought of quality centers for years before Joel Embiid stepped onto the scene. After sitting out his first two seasons, Embiid would make his NBA debut in 2016 and finally show what we have been waiting for. At 7'0" and 280 lbs, Embiid displayed a unique mix of size, skill, and mobility, presenting the perfect center for today's NBA.
Over the years, Embiid has improved and established himself as one of the elite players in the league. He still hasn't been able to guide Philly to the promised land, but at least they are competitive every year. The only weakness in Embiid's game has been the durability and conditioning. But even that has been improved this season, showing a slimmer figure and staying healthy for almost the entirety of the season so far.
In 33 games this season, Embiid has averaged 28.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, and 4.2 apg while carrying the Sixers on his shoulders to a 26-18 record. Joel has been highly impressive of late, being maybe even the best player in the league over the past month -- scoring 50 points in 27 minutes the other night is the perfect example of it. It's a shame this season will be for nothing if Ben Simmons doesn't return or gets traded for a valuable trade package. Having such a prime and healthy season from Embiid is a lucrative opportunity to go far in the playoffs.
A better mix of "KG" and "The Dream"
Doc Rivers is a former player and long-time coach with a lot of experience behind him, but what Embiid is doing is impressing Doc, on the whole another level. In a recent conversation with reporters, Rivers compared his star center to some all-time greats:
"We talk about different guys, bigs that I've coached and been around, I was with David Robinson as a player. Patrick Ewing as a player and I coached Kevin Garnett and I always say he's a little bit Olajuwon and a little bit of Garnett. It's a helluva combination if you can get it. The difference is Joel can go out to the 3-point line which sets him apart. He's Joel Embiid. He's not any of those guys. He's his own guy...He brings the ball up the floor. He's just a talented, listen I said it last year when I got here, I knew he was good, I didn't know he had all of this. I really didn't. He had a game against us, I wanna say it was here when I was in LA, he destroyed us. I didn't know he could still do all of this. It's amazing."
Doc Rivers, Sixers Wire
Those are some pretty elite names to be compared to, but Doc has a point. The low-post game and footwork are Hakeem-like, and Embiid has previously said he watched tapes of Olajuwon and learned his moves. On the other hand, KG was one of the first power forwards to take his game to the mid-range and shoot efficiently. Embiid is not only able to knock it down from the mid-range, but he is even a reliable three-point shooter, hitting 37.5% of his deep bombs.
All in all, Joel Embiid has really helped bring back the center position into relevancy. If he continues to play this way, there is no chance of keeping him out of the MVP conversation. Hopefully, Morey resolves the Simmons situation sooner rather than later and surrounds Joel Embiid with quality pieces.