(Update: On May 2nd, Joel Embiid won the NBA’s 2023 Most Valuable Player award for the first time.)
Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid took a half-beat to assess the situation during a late-season game against the Boston Celtics.
Embiid, a 7-foot, 280-pound center, cradled the ball near the top of the key as he faced Grant Williams, the Celtics’ 6-6 forward. I waved my left hand in Embiid’s face.It could also have been an act of surrender.
Embiid achieved a number of extraordinary feats during the regular season, establishing himself as the favorite to earn his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award. In addition to leading the league in scoring streaks, he averaged 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks.
But there was one thing he did more often than anything else. It was an underrated skill that destabilized opposing defenses and propelled the 76ers to his third best record in the NBA. He completed his 5,526 dribbles.
During the possession with the Celtics, Embiid only needed two things. His two sets of hard dribbles to his right were needed as his teammates cleared his three points to his line and dragged defenders down. Embiid got up in the paint and doubled against Williams. He pivoted to create space before sinking his jumper over him for a short fadeaway.
“How are you going to stop that?” Ian Eagle, TNT’s play-by-play voice, said during the telecast.
The Celtics’ short answer was that they weren’t. Embiid scored 52 points with a narrow win.
Not long ago, NBA centers made a living for their lunches by camping near the hoops. Three-pointer He would have probably landed on the bench with a dribble between his legs near the line.
But, of course, the game has changed. His modern-day NBA is full of huge players who can shoot 3-pointers, run sets from high posts and, in some cases, dribble and stretch defense like their diminutive teammates.
As the 76ers take on the Nets in Round 1 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Embiid’s sophistication as a ball-handler has grown and his love of technology has grown even stronger. Philadelphia is leading the series 3-0 in Game 4 in Brooklyn on Saturday.
“He teeth 76ers shooting guard Tyrese Maxey said of Embiid:
Embiid wasn’t always great with the ball. As a first-year player in the 2016-17 season, he averaged 0.78 dribbles per touchIn fact, he averaged less than one dribble per touch until Doc Rivers was hired as the team’s coach prior to the 2020-21 season.
Rivers said at the time he heard fans wanting Embiid to stop drifting around. However, Rivers said they resisted their pleas to make Embiid a more traditional center.
“Everybody was like, ‘Put him in the post! Put him in the post! ‘” Rivers recalled in an interview. “But he can bring the ball for us and he can run the pick and roll. Few bigs can do that. Please let him do it.”
Last season, Embiid averaged 1.41 dribbles per touch, ranking second among centers behind Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat.Embiid is average this season 1.18 dribbles per touch — another strong total that once again placed him as one of the most dribbling big men in the league. He averaged 84 dribbles per game, according to his NBA Advanced Stats, a division of the league office that creates metrics based on player tracking data.
“I believe anything is possible on the basketball floor,” Embiid said. “If you ask me to be the scorer, I will be the scorer. If you ask me to be the playmaker, I will be the playmaker.”
He shouted at the team’s starting point guard, James Harden, in the locker room.
“James,” said Embiid, “am I good at ball handling?”
Harden raised an eyebrow after averaging 4.77 dribbles per touch this season. (All are relative.)
“Every big man wants to be a guard,” said 76ers forward PJ Tucker. “Why? Because security guards are cooler. Who wants to hang out in the paint and take hookshots?”
Maxxie admitted that he gets nervous at times when Embiid grabs a defensive rebound and insists on dribbling upcourt.
“But at the end of the day, he became Joel Embiid for a reason,” Maxxie said. “He is alone.”
On the half court, the defender’s calculations are relentless. Embiid is adept enough as his shooter on the outside, having made three of his 3-pointers in one game, and has made 33 percent of them this season. Opposing forwards and centers must respect him. However, Embiid can dribble them if they push against him and overextend.
“Bigs? They don’t have a shot,” said Tucker. “That means they can’t keep him anywhere.”
Embiid finds an open man when his opponent tries to trap him.
Norm Roberts, who coached Embiid as an assistant at the University of Kansas, said, “It’s silly for him to do what he does at his size.”
During Embiid’s lonely college season, Roberts envisioned him developing into a “Tim Duncan type of guy”, an early sign of Embiid’s high ceilings. During Duncan’s career, he was something of a traditional center — a big man who could dribble, but also sealed off defenders and used a variety of post moves to make a big splash around the basket. .
The challenge for the University of Kansas coaching staff was that Embiid didn’t think of himself as a traditional center.
Growing up in Cameroon, Embiid played soccer and volleyball.his First real exposure to basketball At the age of 16, Cameroonian player Luc Ember a Moute, then a Milwaukee Bucks forward, invited him to summer basketball camp. Embiid was rough, but he was nimble from age 6 to he was 10 and soon found himself playing high school basketball in Florida.
Some of Embiid’s early lessons were brought to you via YouTube. In addition to studying footage of Hakeem Olajuwon, who was one of his most dominant centers of his time, Embiid has been riveted by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
“They’re the ones I’ve always been more attracted to,” said Embiid. I loved and still do to see how it moves and how fast it is, that’s how I learn and that’s how I try to add it to my game.
He added: It’s all about footwork. You have to have good footwork. ”
At Kansas, Embiid had good footwork — his years playing football helped a lot — along with great hands and great vision as a passer, Roberts said. But he’s still a work in progress, and Bill Self his coach has set healthy boundaries.
“He always liked to dribble,” Roberts said.
As the 2014 NBA Draft became a clearer focus, there were exceptions. Every time a scout passed Allen in Kansas his fieldhouse, Self would send Embiid to the basket with a defender so he could handle the ball and “do the Olajuwon thing” for five to 10 minutes. I made it
“He would do the perfect dream shake,” said Roberts. Olajuwon’s signature spin move.
Embiid missed his first two seasons as a professional with a broken leg after the 76ers drafted him third overall. But those two seasons coincidentally laid the groundwork for his development, Roberts said. The team was limited in what they could do, but Embiid had plenty of time to sharpen his sense of the game with dribbling.
Embiid wants to keep improving. According to him, the two keys are to keep the dribble low and know when to start dribbling. But otherwise he has the freedom to do what he wants.
“I don’t consider myself a security guard, nor do I consider myself a big shot,” he said. “I’m a complete basketball player.”
Additional work by Andy Chen.