BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
The campaign to make Joel Embiid the first Sixers’ All-Star since Andre Iguodala in 2012 (replacement players don’t count) has been admirable, yet such strong efforts do beg the question would such a push be necessary if he was truly worthy of such an accolade.
The voting structure does not favor the traditional line-up any longer, and has eliminated the title of center completely from ballots. However, for the purpose of “fair and balanced” analysis true judgment of the newest NBA phenomenon will come only against those slated at the center position.
Oddly enough the center spot, while voided of a transcendent dominant force, is ripe with quality competition at the position. Each player impacts their respected club in different ways, and fulfill different roles predicated on the talent level of each player.
For example, Joel is required/asked to do significantly more on both ends of the court, than say Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (9.1 pts/7.1 rebs/1.7 blks), New York Knicks’ big man Joakim Noah (5.7 pts/8.8 rebs/blks), Washingtion Wizards center Marcin Gortat (11.5 pts/ 11.8 rebs/1.0 blks), Charlotte Hornet Frank Kaminsky (10.2 pts/4.5 rebs/0.4 blks), Cleveland Cavalier Tristan Thompson (7.3 pts/9.8 rebs/1.1 blks).
This group of bigs are not the collective athlete, defender or scorer of Embiid and are not capable or asked to carry such a load, hence a comparison is not warranted.
Players like the Toronto Raptors’ Jonas Valaciunas (12.2 pts/9.8 rebs/0.8 blks), Milwaukee Buck Greg Monroe (10.8 pts/7.1 rebs/0.5 blks), and Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic (13.2 pts/10.3 rebs/1.1 blks) are a completely different case.
Valaciunas has been effective as the Raptors third wheel at times (14 double-doubles in 36 games), and invisible at other times (10 or fewer points in 13 of 36 games). This is not the case with the 76ers’ center, who at times will force the issue. This offensive aggression with Embiid’s shot-blocking and ability to finish threw contact (14 and-1s compared to six in 11 fewer games) and he easily edges out the Raptors big.
In fact, offensive ability is what distances the Philly center from this second tier entirely. The young pup has more 20 point games (13) then Vucevic (six) and Monroe (zero) combined. A feat the former JayHawk accomplished IN 11 FEWER GAMES and significantly less minutes per contest. Both big men are better rebounders, maybe even significantly better, and but provide adequate offensive numbers.
It is difficult to overlook the gargantuan difference in offensive production, while still managing to anchor a severely inept Philadelphia squad.
The Sixer’s chances become murky when he is measured against the likes of Boston Celtic Al Horford (15.2 pts/6.8 rebs/1.9 blks), Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (20.1 pts/5.0 rebs/1.6 blks), and Atlanta Hawk Dwight Howard (13.9 pts/13.2 rebs/1.3 blks). Offensively Howard and Horford are not the first option on their respective clubs and are unlikely to dominate a game scoring the ball. With the Hawks’ Howard it is rebounding, defense, and shot-blocking that create a problem for the 76ers’ hopeful. The three time Defensive Player of the Year began the season well, tapered off some, but appears to be back to form. Dwight’s 25 doubles-doubles, which are four times more than the six Joel offers, is also be tough to overlook.
Boston’s Horford brings defense and a winning record to the debate. The Celtic center’s blocks (7th in the NBA) come on the ball rather than from the weak-side. While not as flashy, they are a testament to him being a better defender and one of the main reasons Boston has a winning record.
The Nets’ Lopez, posts impressive offensive numbers (three games of 30 or more points), but simply does not have the impact in the wins, rebounding or defense.
It is unlikely any of these three get a nod over the still developing young big, but both Howard and Horford could receive significant consideration from the coaches and media.
Things turn from murky to downright bleak when Indiana Pacers’ big Myles Turner (15.6 pts/7.6 rebs/2.4 blks), the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond (14.5 pts/13.5 rebs/1.2 blks), and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (17.6 pts/14.3 rebs/2.2 blks) enter the fray.
Abysmal record aside Whiteside has performed better and played more than Embiid, and should get the All-Star nod over him. The Heat center has 26 double-doubles, 18 games with 15 or more rebounds, and 16 games of 20 or more points. All more than “the Process”.
The Heat big man is first, among centers, in 2-point field goals made (7.2). Drummond is second (6.2), the Hawks’ Howard is third (5.5), with Joel (5.3) and The Pacers’ Turner (5.2) rounding out the top five. What makes that statistic so intriguing is only one of those four is shooting less than 50 percent from that range.
Yup, it be the 76er. This plays into the infatuation the Philly center has with the three ball and his lack of post play to date.
39 percent of Embiid’s field goals come inside the paint compared to 79 percent of Andre Drummond field goals, 74 percent of Whiteside’s, and 41 percent for Turner. To put that in perspective the seven footer averages 13.8 shots a game, and 5.8 are with five feet of the rim, only Turner (4.3) has a lower output.
At some point your seven footer has to play like……….well a seven footer
The production does not favor the Cameroonian, but there is one factor that will likely eliminate him completely.
That pesky thing known as availability.
As much as fans and supporters would like to ignore this, availability is in fact an ability and should be judged as such. All three of the aforementioned players have played in 35 or more games. More importantly, all three have all played with zero days rest, and put in work while doing so. Drummond (14.3 pts & 14.3 rebs in eight games), Turner (17.3 pts & 7.0 rebs in six games) and Whiteside (13.1 pts & 13.3 rebs in seven games) have provided their clubs with a dimension Philadelphia fans are still waiting on from their Twitter celeb.
Yes, Whiteside plays in Miami and doesn’t panhandle for votes. But his production is video game-esque and should not be disregarded.
Yes, Myles Turner’s Pacers have underachieved, but there is nothing that Joel has done to overtake him for an All-Star appearance.
Yes, Drummond is boring and receives little to no fanfare, but his production is certainly All-Star worthy.
All-Star games are part popularity contests, part lifetime achievement awards (Joe Dumars 1997 & Tim Hardaway 1998 selected over Allen Iverson), and part worthy participant.
It has been an eon since Philly had a player who fit in at least two of those three categories. As it stands now Embiid is more the first than the latter. Hopefully there will be a time when his worthy of both, however now is not that time.