In the Sixers’ 115-109 win over the Lakers at Staples Center on Wednesday night, rookie sensation Ben Simmons finished with 18 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and five steals — and his performance was an afterthought. That’s how good Joel Embiid can be.
The second-year center out of Kansas blew up the box score: 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks in 34 minutes of action, the first recorded 46-15-7-7 line in NBA history since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74. Embiid set career-highs in points, blocks and free throws made (16 of 19 from the line) and became the first Sixers player to score 40-plus points in a game since Allen Iverson dropped 45 on the Heat in 2006.
MORE: Embiid roasts Lonzo, LaVar Ball after big game
But it wasn’t just about what Embiid did — it was how he did it. He dominated on the offensive end by scoring from every level. He comfortably pulled-up from midrange if his defender sagged off.
He relocated like a veteran shooting guard for an open 3-pointer when his defender doubled down.
Embiid put on a clinic in the post, going 9 of 10 in the restricted area and showing footwork and touch that conjured memories of Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime. Sixers coach Brett Brown once described Embiid as “Shaquille O’Neal with soccer feet.”
Those are big names, and Embiid staying healthy remains a question mark moving forward, but the potential is limitless. It’s scary to see Embiid doing this through only 43 career games.
This should be illegal. A 7-footer moving like James Harden through traffic?
It also doesn’t hurt that Embiid is figuring out how to find the open man when he draws a crowd.
Embiid has even learned the subtle nuances and veteran tricks of the game. He caught Julius Randle multiple times on a rip move to draw a foul and earn free throws. Apparently it’s something he noticed during film sessions with his coaches.
A month into last season, Joel Embiid kept stopping a routine film session with a Sixers development coach to point out swing-through fouls he could draw. “I can be a 7-2 Lou-Will” he said.
— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) November 16, 2017
Defensively, Embiid has become a menace as a rim protector. He rejected seven attempts by Lakers players but affected several more. He contested 16 total shots and blocked shots as a primary and help defender.
In terms of ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric, Embiid is the second-most impactful defender in the NBA this season behind DeMarcus Cousins. When Embiid is on the floor, the Sixers allow 96.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, that number jumps to 110.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s the difference between a defense like the Celtics (95.8 defensive rating) and the Cavs (110.6 defensive rating).
It’s incredible to think Embiid only started playing organized basketball in 2011. Six years later, he’s looking like the kind of player who could be an MVP candidate for years to come.
Yes, the season is still fresh, and yes, Embiid has a long road ahead at only 23 years old before anyone can anoint him a Hall of Famer. But there is no ceiling for Embiid, and that should frighten NBA teams outside of Philadelphia.