Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid somehow didn’t win Eastern Conference Player of the Week after going for 50 points and 12 rebounds against the Magic, 40 points and 13 rebounds against the Clippers and 38 points and 12 rebounds against the Spurs.
No matter. Embiid has bigger things in play.
Like the MVP. And possibly an unexpectedly deep playoff run.
On Tuesday, Embiid continued his torrid run that dates back to just after Christmas with 42 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the Pelicans. He has now scored at least 40 points in three of his last four games, and at least 30 points in 14 of his last 15 games (in the one game he fell short he put up 25-13-6 in a win over Boston). This is not normal stuff.
Embiid is also one game shy of tying Karl Malone’s record of five consecutive outings with at least 35 points and 10 rebounds.
Quietly, the Sixers are just two games back in the loss column of the No. 1 seed. Problem is, there are five teams in front of them as the Eastern Conference remains tightly packed above the play-in line.
With all the drama surrounding Ben Simmons and whether he’s going to be traded before the Feb. 10 deadline, it’s almost as if everyone forgot that the Sixers still have one of the best players in the world and can still be a very competitive team. They might be even more than that.
When Embiid plays, the Sixers are 25-11. When he’s on the floor, they boast a 114.8 offensive rating, which would rank second in the league, and a 107.7 defensive rating, which would rank sixth in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
As long as Embiid is healthy, this is not a team anyone is going to want to play in the postseason. No team in the East has a big with even a shot at guarding him. And when the game comes down to winning time, Embiid has been far and away been the league’s most clutch player this season. In games that are within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining, Embiid leads the league by a mile with 109 total points on 53-percent shooting, including 50 percent from 3.
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Embiid gets to the foul line more than any other player in the league, and by extension, Philadelphia makes more free throws per 100 shot attempts than any other team, per Cleaning the Glass. Philly’s offense might look stagnant and choppy at times, but they can work their way to the line and grind through Embiid to stay in games long enough for the big man to take over down the stretch.
The Sixers have shooting and defense. Seth Curry is a legit scorer and Tyrese Maxey can take a game over on any given night. Do not sleep on the Sixers’ chances of making real postseason noise, nor on Embiid’s MVP case.
To the latter point, I still have Nikola Jokic as the MVP and the league’s best player this season. But Embiid isn’t far off. And while it might not be right, narrative matters. When Kevin Durant ditched OKC in 2016, Russell Westbrook became a sympathetic figure in the eyes of voters, and there’s no way that didn’t impact his MVP candidacy in a positive way.
The same can likely be said for Embiid, who has been left in the lurch by Simmons. So far, Embiid has been more than up to the challenge of carrying this team on his own, and that’s going to count for a lot come voting time.