Joel Embiid is the hottest player in the NBA right now, and the Philadelphia 76ers fans are reaping the benefits. Embiid is stretching the thoughts of what a big man can do, and as a result, his name is firmly in the MVP conversation.
Before his seven-game streak of 30 point games was halted in a 111-99 blowout of the Boston Celtics, it was evident Embiid was poised to explode.
The torn meniscus injury from last season seems to have healed, the confidence in his otherworldly talent is noticeable and the leadership Embiid is providing is exactly what Philadelphia needs.
The 76ers (26-18) are fifth in the tight Eastern Conference. The race is amazingly close: Philadelphia is 2.5 games out of first place but also 3.5 games out of eighth.
Despite being shorthanded with Matisse Thybulle (shoulder) out three weeks and Shake Milton (back contusion) out for the past eight games, Embiid is carrying the load. The rest of the team is stepping up as well. Ten-day contracts will define this season, and the 76ers have utilized those signings proficiently – with the latest being Charlie Brown Jr.
Since 2022 began three weeks ago, Embiid has scored under 30 points just once. Over the last 15 games, "The Process" has been averaging a league-leading 33 points as the 76ers have gone 11-4. He began the new year with an NBA record of five straight games scoring exactly 31 points and is as dominant as any player in the NBA currently.
On Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic, Embiid tied a career-high of 50 points. This is his second 50-point game. He easily scored 47 points by the end of the third quarter and began the game scoring 20 of Philadelphia's 25 points in the first.
Embiid also had 23 points in the third quarter, and his stellar total performance offset a career-high 32 points (28 in the first half) by his Magic counterpart, Mo Bamba.
Embiid is the first player since Michael Jordan in 1996 to score 50 points and grab 12 rebounds on 73% shooting. He is only the ninth player overall to do so, joining Wilt Chamberlain (eight times), Karl Malone (twice), Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Truck Robinson, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.
In addition to Chamberlain (11 times) and Allen Iverson (10 times), Embiid is the only other Philadelphia 76ers player to score 50 points more than once.
For the season, Joel Embiid is averaging 28 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game on 49.4% shooting. He's hitting at a 37.5% clip from behind the arc and 81.7% from the line. Making 13.5 of 16.5 attempts at the stripe is not too shabby.
Playing 32 minutes per game, Embiid has a usage rate of 35.6, an offensive rating of 119.2 and a defensive rating of 116.2 for a 3.0 net rating. Philadelphia's net rating with Embiid is 5.4.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic had 49 points and 14 rebounds Wednesday night. Embiid and Jokic as competitors look like an outstanding statistical rivalry NBA fans will witness over the next decade despite being in opposing conferences. Jokic won MVP over Embiid last season, so will "JoJo" wrestle the MVP award away from Jokic this season?
Here are three reasons why.
It's what superstars do
When players come along and surprise everyone with how great they really are, the next league-validating recognition is winning the MVP award. Superstars competing to write legacies while competing for championships will litter their era with phenomenal play. Those jaw-dropping exploits define the MVP award.
Embiid has all the motivation in the world to win this season – as his 54 games played simply weren't enough to win the award over Jokic last season. If Embiid remains healthy in a year when every team has been affected by COVID-19 or injuries, he will be in the conversation depending on where Philadelphia finishes.
Embiid's health will also determine whether he'll be in the MVP conversation every year. He's as talented as any player given his size, ability and dexterity, so expect Embiid to be in the top five of MVP voting before the outer edges of his prime down the line.
As the world around Ben Simmons turns
It doesn't appear that Daryl Morey and Elton Brand will unload guard Ben Simmons just because of expectations from NBA fans and the media.
Simmons is a 6-foot-10 talent nearing his prime. Although the 76ers are figuring out how to win without Simmons, the reality is that Philly is a better team with Simmons.
He and Embiid were expected to be the centerpieces as the team became a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. After some noticeable success with Simmons, Philly will have to either move on or wait it out until comparable compensation for Simmons arises.
In the time Simmons hasn't played, Philly's defense has suffered, yet the team has galvanized itself in his absence. If he hasn't played as of yet with the All-Star break and the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaching, the 76ers must move on until there is a resolution.
Embiid's dominance this season is in part because Simmons isn't on the floor. He has an emotional Philly fanbase all to himself, and his play is as illuminated as anyone else's in the NBA.
While the talented tandem won together and were an unlucky bounce against Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors from maybe winning a championship a few years back, it is now up to Embiid to take the 76ers to the pinnacle.
If this season is any indication that Embiid is both willing and able, the NBA as a whole better pin back its ears against the 76ers. Otherwise, Embiid will defeat teams alone simply because of the damage he does in the interior as well as from the perimeter.
Embiid will foul out entire front lines when he is in his offensive bag. And when it's all done, how many free throws Embiid makes will help define his legacy through all the opportunities at the charity stripe.
It's his time
Embiid has said many times he desires to be the NBA's best player, and his career trajectory is carving out a defined path to capitalize on team and individual success.
His name will be remembered.
The season has seen many MVP candidates arise: Steph Curry, Ja Morant, Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Darius Garland, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan or LeBron James. Still, Embiid is making a claim on the award despite all the great league play.
Kevin Durant (MCL injury) will be back in a month or so, and the matchups between the Brooklyn Nets and the 76ers will have a say in the East and the MVP races.
With all the uncertainty as the Ben Simmons saga continues, what NBA fans are certain of is "JoJo" will continue to dominate every center and team in front of him.
Will this season be the reason all of Africa celebrates again after Hakeem Olajuwon and Antetokounmpo previously won the NBA's most coveted regular season award?
Does Embiid have what it takes to be named MVP and make Cameroon proud?
We'll see, yet it surely looks good for Embiid.
Q. Who wins NBA MVP this season?