The Emergence of Joel Embiid and His Lack of Recognition from the NBA

Aiden Konold ’26

Staff Writer

Though drafted third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers after one season of playing for the Kansas Jayhawks, no one ever predicted quite how drastically Joel Embiid would transform into an NBA star. At the time he was drafted, Embiid had only been playing organized basketball for three years, though his play increased rather rapidly in each year. The Cameroon native picked the sport up at the age of 15, playing and gaining recognition through basketball camps, before his hunger to improve led him to move to the United States to further develop at age 16. He quickly transformed into a star in high school, averaging 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game in his senior season at The Rock School in Florida, leading his team to win the state championship. This sudden emergence turned Embiid into a five-star recruit, an emergence that continued at the University of Kansas, where he would later commit to play college basketball. 

At Kansas, Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, statistics that led him to enter the conversation for Naismith Player of the Year and led him to win the award for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a conference filled with future NBA talent and perhaps the single toughest conference in all of college basketball. After one season playing for the Jayhawks, Embiid declared for the 2014 NBA Draft. While his emergence in such a short time span was rather impressive, he suffered a back injury that kept him from playing in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments in the spring of his freshman season at Kansas, foreshadowing a history of back injuries that continue to sideline Embiid in the NBA from time to time. Despite these question marks regarding Embiid’s ability to stay healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers, who in the 2013 NBA regular season maintained the second worst record in all of the NBA at 19-63 behind only the Milwaukee Bucks, decided to take a chance and draft Embiid with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Despite his previous success, the Sixers had no inkling that he would emerge into a superstar, serving as the backbone of the Sixers’ rapid transformation into one of the more formidable teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. 

When the Sixers drafted Embiid in 2014, they recognized that Embiid was a special talent who had played at a superstar level before suffering a back injury in March of his freshman season at Kansas, an injury that is quite frankly understandable for a player who stands at 7’1” and weighed in at 250 pounds in his college days. The Sixers had just no idea how well Embiid, who has come to be nicknamed “The Process”, would acclimate to the city of Philadelphia and lead the team’s rise from laughing stock of the league to one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. With the emergence of the Sixers has also come the emergence of Embiid’s all around game, transforming into one of the game’s best scorers, as well as one of the if not the most dominant big men as a shooter. While Embiid’s three point percentage as a Jayhawk stood at around 20%, Embiid is shooting 35.8% from behind the arc this year. In addition, since starting in the NBA in 2016, Embiid’s free throw percentage has increased by nearly 8%, currently standing at 85.5%, a part of his game that has significantly benefited his ability to score. This season, Embiid has gone to the line nearly twelve times per game, part of the reason he is leading the league in scoring, averaging 33.4 points per game. 

Unfortunately, though, drafting Embiid did come at a significant cost to the Sixers, as Embiid was kept from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 NBA regular seasons because of his injury. This cost, though, would ultimately pay off, and in Embiid’s rookie season in the 2016-17 NBA regular season, Embiid averaged 20.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, and 2.5 blocks per game, leading to him being selected to be a part of the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team. Despite Embiid’s individual success, the Sixers continued to struggle as a team, going 28-54, the second worst record behind only the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference. In only his second season, though, Embiid was able to lead the Sixers to the third best record in the Eastern Conference at 52-30 behind his averaging 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game and his first All Star Game selection, leading them ultimately into the second round of the playoffs, where they ultimately lost to the Boston Celtics in five games. Since then, the Sixers have continued their dominance in the Eastern Conference, though continually falling just short of reaching the NBA Finals. 

Through it all, Embiid has cemented himself as one of the top, if not the top, players in the game of basketball, though his skillset continues to be overlooked by the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the rest of sports media, as evidenced by recent MVP snubs and All Star Game starter snubs. For the past two seasons, Embiid has led the league in scoring, yet continues to be overlooked by players such as Giannis Antetenkounpo and Nikola Jokic — both very skilled players, but with skill sets that are much different from Embiid’s. Unlike the aforementioned players, Embiid shoots at will from behind the arc, putting up one more 3 point attempt on average than Jokic and nearly two more per game than Giannis. Though it can certainly be argued that Jokic deserved to win the MVP over Embiid last year, the last straw in the media’s unwillingness to recognize Embiid as a superstar lies in him not starting in this year’s NBA All Star Game, despite leading the league in scoring in addition to averaging just over 10 rebounds, nearly 2 blocks, and 4 assists per game, an area of his game that has significantly improved over the past several seasons. Only the Sixers’ organization and fanbase seems to recognize Embiid’s unique greatness, with the organization signing Embiid to a 4 year, $196 million contract extension in the summer of 2021. Embiid is certainly one of the most dominant players in the game of basketball right now, and it is a travesty for the game of basketball and its fans that a player of his ability continues to be snubbed, having to work twice as hard as the next guy just to gain half the recognition. Embiid deserves more than to be snubbed from starting in the NBA All Star Game, and might just win an MVP one of these years if the NBA and sports media more broadly finally come to their senses and recognize his greatness. The NBA and its fans deserve it!

Photo courtesy of WHYY

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