How Joel Embiid's numbers stack up against other potential East all-stars
Beaten out by sixth-year Chicago veteran Jimmy Butler for the final frontcourt starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team last week, rookie NBA sensation Joel Embiid will learn Thursday night whether the league’s coaches have voted him onto the team as a reserve.
Seven roster spots remain — with two slotted for guards, three for frontcourt players and two more for wild cards — and the inevitable 2017 Rookie of the Year has a legitimate shot at becoming an all-star in his debut season with Philadelphia, following a torturous two-year wait due to Embiid’s foot fracture.
The NBA announced last week the top-10 vote-getters at each position, per the composite point system that took into account where players ranked among fans, players and media members. If the league still mandated a center had to be represented in the starting lineup — which it did until 2013 — Embiid would be starting. The 7-foot-2 pivot from Cameroon received more votes than any other East center. What’s more, the former Kansas standout ranked third overall among East forwards and bigs in fan votes, getting more love than Kevin Love, so if the NBA hadn’t altered its voting process before this season to include players and media, he would be starting.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Embiid suffered a left knee bruise this past Friday in a Sixers victory over Portland and has been held out of the lineup to heal. He is expected to return Friday versus Houston.
As pointed out by Keith Pompey of Philly.com, the 76ers are 3-10 without their smiling face of the franchise on the floor. When Embiid does play, the Sixers are 13-17 — this from an organization that has lost more than 75% of its games in each of the previous three seasons.
Of late, Philadelphia has thrived with its starting center on the floor, winning six straight and eight of its last nine with Embiid playing. In 30 games, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists in just 25.3 minutes. The big man is shooting 46.2% from the floor, 34.8% from 3-point range and 77.7% at the foul line.
Whether all those numbers add up to a rare rookie all-star selection — only 10 first-year players have made the cut since 1985 — is up to the NBA’s 30 head coaches.
ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy, while appearing recently on Zach Lowe’s The Lowe Post podcast, was blown away to hear the impact Embiid makes statistically when he’s available. The Sixers’ net rating (an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions) with Embiid on the floor currently stands at +14.7, per basketball-reference.com.
“He is the MVP of the year then,” Van Gundy joked. “No, it’s over. Like, (Russell) Westbrook, (James) Harden, forget it. Embiid is MVP, and I’ll start leading the chants if we do another Sixer game, because if that’s true, with the roster that he has around him, that’s an incredible accomplishment.”
If a coaching veteran like Van Gundy can be swayed by the numbers and overlook the time Embiid has missed due to the Sixers taking injury precautions and limiting his minutes and availability, perhaps the current head coaches can, as well.
As for Embiid’s competition at this point, Love, a veteran with great numbers on the East’s best team, is a virtual lock. So the Sixers’ flamboyant big man will have to contend with a contingent of other frontcourt players for the final two to four roster spots — the coaches could vote in four guards for the bench unit, leaving just three total spots for reserve forwards and bigs.
Here’s who Embiid figures to be up against: Indiana’s Paul George, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Atlanta’s Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker.
The Sixers depend upon Embiid more than any of his competitors’ teams need them, and the rookie big man’s Player Efficiency Rating ranks better than all of the other candidates in the discussion.
If Embiid doesn’t make it, you can likely ascribe that scenario to coaches preferring to give veterans their due or thinking the Sixers’ centerpiece hasn’t played enough games, compared to the other candidates — or all of the above.
No matter what the coaches decide, Embiid can book his flight to New Orleans for All-Star Weekend (Feb. 17-19), because he’ll be a headliner in the Rising Stars Challenge. And he just might join previously announced starters LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Butler and DeMar DeRozan on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Good news for Embiid: the games aren’t on back-to-back nights. The Rising Stars game is Friday and the main event is Saturday. And no one plays that many minutes in all-star games.