Sports

Why Embiid’s scoring title is a BIG deal


Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid
Photo: Getty Images

Joel Embiid capped off his chase for the scoring crown on Saturday night by summoning a brilliant 41-point, 20-rebound outing in the Philadelphia 76ers’ 133-120 win over the Indiana Pacers. A dazzling 40/20 game was the perfect way to secure the best individual accomplishment of his career.

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A scoring title is not the personal accolade Embiid has been endlessly campaigning for (MVP is), but it’s a significant achievement for him and the entire big man fraternity. Embiid’s scoring title is the first for a true center since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2000. Kevin Durant is the only 7-footer to win a scoring title in the past 20 years. A frontcourt-based 7-footer winning a scoring title is rare air. Moreover, This was the first scoring title between two competing bigs since Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson slugged it out for the scoring title in 1993 and 1994, while Jordan played minor league baseball.

Embiid’s scoring title doesn’t feel like a one-year-wonder. Right now, the three leading candidates for NBA MVP are big men, and Karl Anthony-Towns is the 3-point champion. The reigning Finals MVP is the Greek Freak. At the beginning of the Millenium, the NBA’s age of low-post dinosaurs gave us a few Yao Ming and Shaq battles for the road, then shifted the balance of power outside the 3-point arc. It took a few years, but a generation of centers raised on a steady diet of outside shooting and inside prowess are putting it together.

Embiid’s scoring profile is the epitome of that shift. He scores more points off post-ups than any competitor in the league and is one of the most-double teamed scorers in the NBA. However, he also attempts nearly four 3-pointers a game and drains 37 percent of them. Give him too much space to shut down his driving lanes and he’ll switch gears and swish a step-back triple like a 2-guard. The most significant shift has been his availability. Embiid has played a career-high 68 games this season and avoided any significant injuries.

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Ten years ago, when LeBron was winning his first title, Embiid was a clumsy 7-footer. Few thought the awkward teen lacking a rudimentary skill set would be a model for this generation of centers.

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For the first time in decades, the bigs have thawed out and re-emerged to inherit the league.

Embiid’s scoring title is the culmination of the big man renaissance and potentially a sign of what’s to come in the post-LeBron era. Embiid outpaced James, who wouldn’t have qualified because he didn’t play enough games. Peek ahead five years, and there isn’t a young guard or wing who we are assured can become the face of the league, except Luka Dončić . We aren’t far from a reality where Nikola Jokić is the first true center to lead the league in assists per game.

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Embiid was projected as a future Defensive Player of the Year, but the closest he came was in 2018 when he finished second to Rudy Gobert in the vote. He lost Rookie of the Year to Malcolm Brogdon and is expected to finish second behind Jokić in the MVP race.

He may be losing the advanced stats battle to Jokić and possibly the MVP, but after five All-Star appearances, three All-NBA Second Teams, three All-NBA Defensive Second-Teams, the 28-year old 76ers’ center has finally won his first hardware.

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