The celebrated African proverb if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together should be sandblasted into the Sixers practice facility drywall. It is their truth after years of mediocrity, helplessness and cover your eyes atrocity. But they hung in there, grabbed two elite players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and now are the first game on opening night- a schedule which features elite teams likely to be in the conference final.
Their losing drought in the mirror, the Sixers open the 2018-19 season against the team that eliminated them and exposed how young they really are. Although everyone is penciling in the Celtics to get to the Finals, there is a case to be made for the Sixers knocking them off and it begins and ends with Joel Embiid as league MVP.
Embiid is only 24 but he still is young. “I’m still learning. You know I started playing basketball seven years ago.”
Seven years for Embiid is like a lifetime for everyone else. His 2017-18 numbers vaulted him into the elite club. He became a star, legitimized himself as face of the franchise, and did everything you want and need a young breakout star to do.
Among centers, he was 2nd in Real-Plus Minus and 4th in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He played in twice the amount of games as the season before. His 22.9 points and 11.0 rebounds put him in the top-5 of NBA centers.
Embiid’s 48% field goals is where he needs to improve this year, too many jumpers. Easily, at his height, he should be 52% or better. But last season he took 243 threes and only made 30%. He attempted 715 jump shots and made 37% of them.
He’s the modern big man who loves to pass the ball and has great court vision as his 3 assists per game attest to. But he has an issue with turnovers, particularly when he’s doubled team. His usage rate is high but he’s a star, it is supposed to be high. His offense needs to catch up to his defense, though.
Last season, Embiid had an offensive rating of 106. Denver’s Nikola Jokic had an offensive rating of 121 and as a second year player it was 126, twenty points higher than Embiid’s in his second year.
The powers that be have Philly doing special things this year. That’s why they are one of the four teams on tap for opening night. But can Embiid win the MVP and take the trophy from the always could win it LeBron James?
Yes, he can win it but these things have to happen.
He must play 70-72 games. The MVP is about reversing attrition. You are exhausted from the season but you still produce.
Offensive Rating has to go up. Embiid has to be a big time offensive threat. His jumper has to be more consistent. He has to win games offensively for the Sixers in the last three minutes. Last season, his last three minutes of a quarter numbers were a mixed bag. He shot 22% from three but 46% overall.
He has to play more than 30 minutes. When you look at last year’s numbers and realize dude only was out on the court for 30 minutes, it makes you wonder what 35 minutes of Embiid would look like? His defense alone puts him in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year. 35 minutes of Embiid would vault him into the 28 point club (at the minimum), add more wins than last year’s 52, and possibly best record in the East.
It’s crazy to think that Embiid got an almost $150 million extension and he hasn’t even played 100 NBA games. Embiid is looking forward to this year as much as the fans.
“I’m coming in healthy. For the first time ever I got to work on my basketball skills which I feel like I’ve already gotten so much better with the help of the coaches and my trainer, Drew [Hanlen]”.