76ers’ Joel Embiid returned to MVP form after relatively slow start to season

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Last season, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid finished second in MVP votes behind Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. There’s an argument to be made that Embiid could have won the award without the number of games he missed, but either way, it was objectively the best season of Embiid’s career. Considering the way he played last season, Embiid’s expectations for the current campaign were huge. However, he started the season a bit slow – for him.

In six games in October, Embiid averaged 21 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, while shooting just 43 percent from the ground – numbers far below the top stats he released on the day. last season. Several factors may have contributed to the slow start, including a shortened offseason, a rule change that impacted how players may have fouled and a new ball that Embiid admittedly struggled to get used to. . Considering these changes, the center was far from the only star player who seemed to be struggling at the start.

Embiid also had to spend much of the offseason resting his right knee after suffering a meniscus tear in the playoffs. So, it’s possible that he wasn’t quite in the form he would have been had he been healthy all of the offseason. Whatever the reason, it’s clear the big man didn’t play his best ball in October.

Then in November, Embiid missed three weeks of action due to COVID-19, and the prolonged absence kept him from finding his rhythm. He only played five total games in November and averaged 25 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per performance, while his field goal percentage again hovered around 43. Another one. times, this is not his best ball.

It took a few games for him to return to action after his fight with COVID, but once the schedule moved to December, Embiid started to look a lot more like his MVP from last season. In 13 games, Embiid has averaged 29.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists, and most importantly, his field goal percentage soared to 49%. The increase in shooting percentage was a direct result of Embiid getting in shape and consistently getting a better offensive appearance.

After spending perhaps a little too much time around the perimeter at the start of the season, Embiid recovered as the league’s top post in December. As a result, he was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the third time in his career. The Sixers summed up their dominance in December well in a press release:

Embiid was the only player during the month to post totals of at least 350 points, 140 rebounds and 50 assists. Those totals led Embiid to post eight double doubles, which placed second in the East and tied for fifth in the NBA … Embiid scored in double digits in all 13 appearances this month, including two over 40 performances. points. On December 6, in a victory in Charlotte, Embiid scored a record 43 points (15-20 FG, 1-2 3FG, 14-15 FT), while adding 15 rebounds and seven assists. He is one of two players to have played at least 40-15-5 this season.

During the month of December, Embiid recorded four league-leading games with at least 35 points and 10 rebounds. These outings contributed to the three-time All-NBA selection scoring his 7,000th career point on Dec. 26 in a victory over the Wizards. In doing so, he tied Iverson in career fewest games (282) to score his 7,000th point in franchise history.

It’s still early days, but Embiid’s play was equally remarkable in January. In three games, he had 93 total points, 32 rebounds and 21 assists for the Sixers, who sit fifth in the East with a 22-16 record. The Sixers are currently in the middle of a six-game winning streak, and Embiid has scored over 30 points in all six games, become the third player of the Sixers – with Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain – to score over 30 goals in six straight games.

Considering the way he plays, it’s no surprise that Embiid is starting to generate MVP buzz again. Two weeks ago, he was nowhere to be found on the NBA.com Weekly MVP Rankings. Last week he was ninth. This week, he climbed to fourth place, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Jokic. If he continues to play like he did last month and change, he will continue to climb.

One impressive thing about Embiid’s current campaign is that he has managed to improve in a few key areas compared to last season. After finishing well outside the top ten in clutch scores last season, Embiid has catapulted himself to the top of that list this season, and it’s not particularly close. Embiid scored more than 25 more clutch points than second-place Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan. His improvement in this area can be attributed to sheer determination on his part, combined with improved conditioning.

Plus, Embiid is having his best season as a passer. Last season, he averaged just 2.8 assists per game. That number reached a career high of 4.2 this year. He’s orchestrating the offense for Philadelphia and preparing his teammates in a way he’s never done before. Here are some great examples of Embiid’s development as a passer in Philadelphia’s 119-100 win over Spurs on Friday night.

In the first game, Embiid reads the defense perfectly and delivers a dime to a sharp Tobias Harris. In the second game, Embiid reacted quickly and decisively to San Antonio’s double base team, and Matisse Thybulle got an open dunk as a result. The big man has been making games like this all season. Embiid’s increased confidence in his own game also resulted in some memorable highlights, like the penny he gave Thybulle in the second quarter of their game against Spurs:

Embiid recently said he is still not 100% which is scary for the rest of the league. His stellar game is far from a guarantee that he will win his first MVP, as there is a plethora of players – including Antetokounmpo, Durant, Jokic, Curry, James and Morant, to name a few – who have a legitimate case to win the award. Nonetheless, Embiid is back in his place – right in the heart of the conversation, because when the big man operates at the peak of his powers, he has as much impact as any player in the league.

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