In the NBA this week, there have been some standout performances and intriguing storylines to follow. One player who deserves recognition is Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, who is in the midst of what could be considered the greatest scoring season in NBA history. Embiid's improvement this season has left opposing teams and coaches in awe, as he has managed to elevate his game even further after an impressive campaign last year where he averaged 33 points per game and won the Most Valuable Player award.
In previous seasons, there were moments where Embiid seemed somewhat containable for opponents. Well-executed double-teams and smart defensive rotations could confuse him, resulting in turnovers. However, this season, Embiid has showcased his growth as a playmaker, averaging six assists per game while maintaining a low turnover rate. This development has made it even more challenging for defenses to slow him down.
One tactic that teams used against Embiid in the past was focusing on the two-man game between him and former teammate James Harden. Defenses would attach themselves to Embiid, allowing Harden a driving lane and relying on late help defense. The goal was to take away Embiid's mid-range jumper at any cost. Yet, under the guidance of coach Doc Rivers, Embiid has made adjustments to his game, moving away from the post and operating more from the foul line area.
However, with the recent coaching change that saw Rivers' departure, Embiid expressed a desire for the Sixers' offense to become more unpredictable. Enter Nick Nurse, the new head coach of the Sixers, who is known for his innovative and adaptable coaching style. One significant change in the team's offense is the emergence of Tyrese Maxey as the lead ball-handler since Harden's departure. Maxey's quickness and willingness to push the tempo have injected a new dynamic into the offense, allowing Embiid to thrive in different ways.
As Maxey gains more experience, he has become adept at leading Embiid into scoring opportunities. A perfect example is their quick-fire passing exchange that creates mismatches for the opposition. Paired with the entry passing skills of Nicolas Batum, Maxey's ability to exploit defensive openings and find Embiid has become a potent weapon for the Sixers.
Embiid's performances this season have been mesmerizing, with his scoring efficiency reaching historic levels. Currently averaging 36 points in just 34 minutes per game, Embiid finds himself in the company of basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain is the only player to have averaged at least one point per minute during a season, achieving an astonishing 50.4 points in 48.5 minutes in 1961-62. Embiid's current rate of 1.05 points per minute surpasses even Chamberlain's remarkable achievement.
What makes Embiid's scoring prowess even more impressive is his ability to dominate from various areas of the court. Shooting an impressive 53% on long 2-pointers, Embiid has become a commanding presence from the elbow. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O'Neal, Embiid combines elite jump-shooting, graceful footwork, and overwhelming power. Defenses are struggling to find answers to contain him.
However, despite Embiid's regular-season dominance, questions remain about his ability to maintain his high level of production during the playoffs. Injuries have hindered his postseason performances in the past, but there have been instances where the gap between his regular-season and playoff performances has been concerning. Games where Embiid has failed to show up, like last season's Game 7 against the Boston Celtics, have raised doubts about his ability to lead the Sixers deep into the playoffs.
Looking ahead, the Celtics continue to be considered favorites in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers, while showcasing an improved offense with players like Maxey supporting Embiid, still lack reliable ball-handlers beyond their young guard. With three first-round picks at their disposal, the possibility of making a trade before the deadline remains open for the Sixers. Additionally, they have considerable cap space available for the upcoming offseason, with speculation surrounding potential free agent targets such as Paul George.
Joel Embiid's outstanding performances this season have solidified his status as one of the premier players in the NBA. His remarkable scoring abilities and improved playmaking have elevated the Sixers' offense to new heights. As the regular season progresses and the playoffs approach, all eyes will be on Embiid and the Sixers, eager to see if they can translate their regular-season success into a deep postseason run.