Why Joel Embiid should have made the 2017 NBA All-Star team
Joel Embiid is one of the most talented and productive rookies the NBA has ever seen. But that production wasn’t enough to get him onto the 2017 NBA All-Star team.
Joel Embiid’s long-awaited date with Rihanna has been postponed until 2018.
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) January 27, 2017
During Thursday’s Inside the NBA on TNT, Ernie, Kenny, Chuck and Shaq revealed the NBA All-Star Game reserves for both conferences. Notably absent was Embiid, who finished third among Eastern Conference frontcourt players in the fan vote.
Though Paul Millsap, Kevin Love and Paul George were each defensible selections, the All-Star Game will miss the joie de vivre of the self-proclaimed “Process.” On the bright side, Embiid didn’t miss the opportunity to keep it 100 after he learned of his snub:
Once again the popular vote didn't matter……
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) January 27, 2017
The Philadelphia 76ers rookie big man will still make an appearance during All-Star Weekend, as he’s slated to suit up for the World team in the Rising Stars Challenge. That’s little consolation for those who hoped to see him in the main event, though.
What makes Embiid such a notable exclusion from the All-Star Game? Three main factors stand out.
He’s putting up historic numbers as a rookie
Embiid likely missed out on an All-Star berth because he’s been playing under a strict minutes limit as he works his way back from consecutive foot surgeries that sidelined him for his first two professional seasons. Despite those restrictions, the Kansas product is putting up All-Star-caliber numbers, having averaged 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists in just 25.3 minutes across his first 30 games.
If Embiid sustains those averages throughout the remainder of the 2016-17 campaign, he’d become just the second rookie in NBA history—joining future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan—to do so. Prior to this season, only five first-year players in league history averaged at least 19 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, and none of them hit a single 3-pointer during those debut campaigns. Embiid, meanwhile, has already knocked down 32 triples. If New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t beat him to it, the Sixers big man could become the first-ever player to hit 100 treys and block 100 shots within the same season.
When evaluating Embiid’s per-36-minute averages—28.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 2.9 assists, 1.5 three-pointers and 1.1 steals—he joins even more rarefied company. The only rookie in NBA history to ever accomplish that feat prior to Embiid was Cozell McQueen of the 1986-87 Detroit Pistons, who played a grand total of seven minutes that season. In other words, there’s zero precedent for what the 7-foot-2 behemoth is accomplishing in Philadelphia this year.
Though plenty of players look like All-Stars when going solely by per-36-minute or per-100-possession averages, Embiid’s per-game impact in limited minutes is impossible to ignore. Just ask the Sixers’ recent foes.
He’s having a profound effect on Philly
The following things are all true:
- Last season, the Sixers won 10 games in total.
- This season, despite adding only three new rotation players via free agency or trades—Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson and Ersan Ilyasova—the Sixers won their 10th game on Jan. 8.
- Despite the Sixers having a net rating of minus-5.4 as a team, Embiid is a plus-67 on the year. He is the lone Philadelphia player with a positive plus/minus rating.
- The Sixers average 0 more points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the court versus when he’s on the bench. They allow opponents to score 9.3 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the bench rather than on the court.
- The Sixers’ defensive rating with Embiid on the court (98.5) is 2.5 points per 100 possessions better than the Golden State Warriors’ league-best mark (101.0). Their defensive rating with him on the bench (107.8) would rank 24th league-wide.
And then there’s this fun nugget, which ESPN Stats & Info’s Micah Adams tweeted on Jan. 18:
76ers have scoring margin of a 56-win team with Embiid on the floor this season. And scoring margin of 11-win team with him off the floor.
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) January 19, 2017
Though Embiid isn’t solely responsible for the Sixers’ recent surge up the Eastern Conference standings, there’s no denying the energy he has imbued into the organization. With every rim-rattling dunk, pull-up 3-pointer and vicious rejection from Embiid, it’s becoming progressively easier to imagine Philadelphia emerging as a legitimate NBA Finals threat in the coming years, particularly considering the asset cache former general manager Sam Hinkie accrued before unceremoniously departing the organization last April.
Since team record often factors into All-Star Game nods—see: the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, for example—the Sixers’ 17-27 standing likely didn’t do Embiid favors this season. If Philadelphia continues progressing at the rate it has since the calendar flipped to 2017, though, that’ll be a non-issue come next season.
The All-Star Game is about fun
In making Embiid’s All-Star case, SB Nation’s Tom Ziller explained why the big man’s jubilance made him a perfect fit for the festivities:
The NBA All-Star Game is pomp and spectacle. Paul Millsap is a wonderful player and fine human. He is completely pointless in the All-Star Game. Team defense, screening, post work — like, really? No one wants that in this context. They want HIGHLIGHTS. They want FUN.
Embiid can give you highlights and oh can he give you fun, too.
Embiid isn’t just providing Sixers fans hope after a dreary three-year slog through rosters full of D-League players and guys on 10-day contracts. He’s tweeting, screaming and dancing his way into every Philadelphian’s heart, too.
Take the time he nearly choked out his own teammate out of excitement after second-year point guard T.J. McConnell hit a game-winner against the New York Knicks:
Embiid’s dancing that night was on point, too:
Or what about the time he channeled WWE Superstar Triple H during his intro
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) January 14, 2017
That’s not to mention his on-court highlights:
The All-Star Game was tailor-made for Embiid to fly his freak flag highest. Since defense is often optional until the final few minutes, no one would challenge the 7-footer as he soared to the rim to catch a lob from Kyle Lowry or John Wall. Given his stated desire to become a point guard by the end of his career, we could have seen him make his debut as a floor general, too.
Without Embiid, the All-Star Game won’t be as fun as it otherwise could have been. Fret not, though—Embiid will be a fixture of these proceedings soon enough.
One bright side to his exclusion? The “help me date Rihanna” campaign lives on.