Joel Embiid has been playing at MVP level for years now. Even when he was stuck coming second place to Nikola Jokic, Embiid was improving each year, honing various elements of his game. From his passing in the middle of the floor and ball-handling in transition, to his decision-making against double teams and mid-range artistry.
And now, even after finally taking home the MVP award last season, he’s come back even better yet again to start 2023-24.
Through 22 games, as the Sixers sit at 18-7, Embiid is averaging a career-high 34.2 points on 64.6 true shooting in 33.9 minutes per game. For the third-straight year, he’s leading the league in scoring. Along with his eye-popping scoring numbers, Embiid is also averaging 11.7 rebounds, a career-high six assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.9 blocks (his most rejections since 2018-19). Within these numbers, he’s grabbing a career-high three offensive boards per game (not far off double last year’s average of 1.7) and the second-best block percentage (4.9) of his career.
Simply put, Embiid isn’t just better than last season. He’s gone up a level.
As Embiid has continued polishing the skills mentioned above, he’s also been thriving in Nick Nurse’s offense which has employed more passing, player movement, and cutting. With Embiid being entrusted to make so many reads from the top of the floor, facilitating in transition, and hitting cutters from the elbows (and running a ton of effective dribble hand-offs with Tyrese Maxey), his average of six assists per game is well above his previous career-high 4.2.
During the Sixers’ 135-82 win (the third-largest victory in franchise history) against the Hornets on Saturday, Embiid earned yet another fourth quarter off. Out of his 22 games this season, he’s only played in 13 fourth quarters. Why play the fourth when you can put the game so far out of reach for opponents before it begins?
Following his latest dominant three-quarter outing, Embiid has become just the third player over the last 50 years to record a 10-game streak of 30+ points and 10+ rebounds in each game.
The only two others to do it? Moses Malone for 11 games in 1982, and Shaquille O’Neal for 11 games in 2001.
In this last 10-game stretch, Embiid’s averaging 36.9 points with an absurd 67.8 true shooting percentage, 12.4 rebounds, six assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.3 blocks in 33.4 minutes a night.
Embiid’s streaks of consistent scoring prowess extend beyond the company of other big men in NBA history, too. He’s now scored 30+ points in each of his last 11 games, and joins Tiny Archibald, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and Jerry West as the only players in NBA history to record multiple 10-game streaks of at least 30 points.
The Sixers and their fans have often wanted Embiid to have more opportunities for rest in the past, and he’s getting them this season with all these fourth quarters on the bench. That’s how well the Sixers have been taking care of business recently. And how much Embiid is dominating through the first three periods to be able to rest up in the fourth so regularly.
Starting strong has been a point of emphasis for Nurse with his rotation, too. He’s playing Embiid for the whole first quarter of games this year, and in these first periods alone Embiid is averaging 11.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, two assists, and 0.5 blocks.
Sure, the Sixers’ schedule has eased up recently and they’ve been boosting their numbers against some weaker opponents with their last few blowout wins. But that’s what good teams and good players are supposed to.
Led by Embiid, the Sixers now rank second in offensive rating (121.9), fifth in defensive rating (109.8), and first in net rating at +12.1 — way ahead of the second-place Celtics at +8.7.
The historic numbers Embiid keeps putting up have become the norm for him at this point. It’s nothing new when he leads the league in scoring, breaks records, expands his already versatile and imposing offensive skillset, or joins NBA legends for these rarely-seen stretches of ridiculous production.
Joel Embiid is playing like one of the best players we’ve ever seen. It shouldn’t be taken for granted just because this level of performance has become so normal for him.
I mean, when a player’s scoring rate is being mentioned with Wilt, you know it’s ludicrous.
Joel Embiid has 752 points in 746 minutes so far this season.
More points than minutes played 22 games into the season. Even Wilt Chamberlain only accomplished that feat once.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 17, 2023
“Can anybody guess what I’m about to say? He’s very good at basketball,” Maxey said after the Sixers’ 124-92 win against the Pistons on Friday. “I’ll even elaborate more. He is getting better, which is scary.”
“He did a layup today, a layup that I usually do, a Eurostep high glass, like touch layup. I looked next to Pat Bev[erley] and said, ‘He’s 7’2 and just ran full speed and did the same layup I just did.’ And that’s scary, just kudos to him, man. We appreciate him and he’s got all it takes to be great.”
Like Maxey said, the reigning MVP just keeps getting better.