Before we knew how good Joel Embiid really was—back when he was still a kid, mostly just seven feet of raw potential—we already knew one thing for sure: This dude was a lot of fun.
Going back to his college days, and certainly during his early seasons in the NBA, Embiid offered glimpses on the court, and on social media, of a subtly hilarious personality. He wasn’t as boisterous as Shaq, perhaps, but he was showing signs of being the most entertaining big man since Diesel himself. The only question was whether he could match Shaq’s oncourt dominance. It took a couple of seasons, when he battled injuries that had Philadelphia fans wondering if they’d ever get to see him on the court. But once they did, Embiid left no doubt he’d been worth the wait.
Now, in his seventh NBA season, coming off a campaign in which he averaged nearly 31 points and 12 rebounds per game, Embiid has stated his case as the League’s best pure big man since Shaq, too. It’s a different game than the one Shaq ruled in his prime, of course, and Embiid’s often unstoppable play reflects that evolution. Given his size alone, he’s a nearly impossible matchup in the low post, and that’s before you account for the footwork honed during a soccer-happy childhood in his native Cameroon. He’s learned all the tricks of the game’s low-post greats, and he’s mastered the ability to beat defenders with face ups or spin moves, and to finish with finesse or ferocity.
He’s also got that range—enough to keep defenders honest when he sets up behind the arc—and he’s more than willing to run the break. He’s also an elite post defender with a knack for crowd-pleasing rejections. But what keeps the fans really happy—particularly the hometown fans in Philly—is how he goes about it. Joel Embiid is all in, engaged, battling, playing with intensity and playing to the crowd. You can’t watch him without knowing he cares.
He’s 28 now, and coming off a season in which he put up MVP-caliber numbers—did we mention he led the League in scoring last season?—while playing a career-high 68 games, Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career thus far, and he looks like he might get better still. Twice an MVP runner up, he’ll once again be a favorite for the award, and his Sixers enter the season among a short list of favorites for the NBA title. His presence alone would make any team in the League a contender.
The stakes are high, and Embiid is serious about finally securing some hardware. All we ask is that he continue not to take himself too seriously. His greatness is best appreciated when he’s having a blast on the court.
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