Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Joel Embiid Putting the “Big” Back in NBA

By Anthony Brancato

Tired of jump-shooting "power forwards" and super-sized "shooting guards?"

If you are, then you must be a huge (no pun intended) Joel Embiid fan.

The 7-foot-tall, 280-pound (this is not your father's spindly basketball player) Embiid — whose name is pronounced "Joe-ELL em-BEED" — a native of Yaounde, Cameroon, the country's capital, emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 16 after he was discovered in his homeland by fellow countryman and former NBA journeyman Luc Mbah a Moute (Toronto's Pascal Siakam is also from the Central African nation), and played for two high schools in Florida under the tutelage of Moute. Rated as a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, he enrolled at the University of Kansas.

After only one season at Kansas, Embiid took the unusual step of declaring for the NBA draft, being selected by Philadelphia with the draft's third overall pick, despite the serious foot injury that had not only kept him out of the Jayhawks' postseason, but the first two years of his pro career, as well.

But it has been all uphill from there.

Despite his injury woes continuing — a torn meniscus sidelining him for the rest of the season in late February — Embiid was nonetheless named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team for 2016-17. Embiid earned an appearance in the NBA All-Star Game the following season — but then missed three weeks due to an orbital fracture of his left eye.

During the 2018-19 season, Embiid became the seventh player in NBA history to record at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 200 blocked shots in his first 100 games, after Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Ralph Sampson, all centers like Embiid, had already done so. He also averaged 27.5 points per game that season.

Debunking the myth that all big men are poor free-throw shooters, Embiid is a lifetime 79.3% free-throw shooter, recording a career-high 80.7% in 2019-20.

So far this season, Embiid is hanging up MVP numbers: His 30.5 points per game ranks second in the league, with only one other center (Denver's Nikola Jokic, who is eighth) so much as in the top 18. This has immensely helped the Sixers register a 20-10 record, which is good for first place in the Eastern Conference (although they trail West-leading Utah by four games — a long-time problem that the NBA needs to address). The Sixers are bringing welcome relief to a fan base still shellshocked by what the Eagles did in their just-concluded season, culminating in their controversial — to say the least — trade of Carson Wentz to the Colts.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Phillies will give this fan base something to cheer about. But the Sixers are doing that right now — thanks largely (!) to the big man from Cameroon.

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