Joel Embiid just casually dropped another 30 pts last night against the Trailblazers. His seventh such game in a row, and 25th of the season. In fact, he has only failed to reach 30pts 9 times this season. He is 2nd in the NBA with 33.6pts per game, and just .1pts behind Luka Doncic for the league lead. The next closest center is Nikola Jokic with 25.1 pts per game. No modern NBA center is as dominant of a scorer as he is, and it is not particularly close. You could honestly argue he is one of the best scoring centers of all time. Which makes Hakeem Olajuwon’s recent comments all the more baffling.
If you missed it, this is what “The Dream” said about Joel Embiid.
“He’s got all the moves, but leveraging the moves is different. Why would he be shooting threes? He has the advantage every night, and if I have the advantage, I’m going to wear you out. [Shooting threes is] settling! When I’m tired, I settle. You don’t settle when you’re trying to win. You don’t start the game settling!”
I’m sorry, what? Shooting 3’s would be settling for Hakeem, that much is true. Because he could not shoot 3’s. He shot .202 on his career. The difference is Embiid can. He shoots 35.2% from distance. Which while not amazing, is good enough that it is worth taking an open 3. Embiid’s ability to hit the deep ball keeps opposing defenses honest. Not to mention that Embiid is literally 2nd in the NBA in scoring. What more do you want him to do as a scorer? So when Embiid had another 30pt game last night, he took the time to defend himself.
Here is what Embiid said after the game.
“From the time that [Doc Rivers] got there, the first thing he told me I need to figure out where I want the ball. And obviously, before it was in the post. But like I mentioned in the past, posting up, posting all game long, it’s easy to double. It’s funny, when you got these old guys always talking about posting up, need to spend time in the paint and and all that stuff, you can’t win this way anymore. It’s not the freakin’ 90’s or 80’s like it used to be so they must not have any basketball IQ.
But, going back to what I was saying like [Rivers] just, he told me that I need to find the area on the floor that I was gonna be the most comfortable with. Obviously me and Drew [Hanlen] we study a lot. So we just started figuring out ‘OK, where can I be a better playmaker and when can I be a better scorer without being doubled and without being easy to double.’”
And of course, Embiid is right. You cant stay in the paint all game long anymore. Nor should you want to. Keeping Embiid in the paint all game would be a waste of his talent. He is not Shaq or Hakeem. Because unlike them he can expand his game to all parts of the floor. He has an elite mid-range game, and a decent 3pt shot. He can pull defenders out of the paint to defend him. If he can do that, and do so at a dominant level, why the hell would you not take advantage of it?
Say you keep Joel in the paint all game long like these older players want him to. Now the other team’s center is always around the basket too. What you now have is a paint clogged-up, limiting the ability of players like James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris to drive to the basket. All 3 of those guys thrive in the role of driving. Even in his older age, Harden still does it well. But if you had two 7 footers constantly in the paint, that would be significantly harder. Not to mention Embiid is now constantly being double-teamed, and getting beat up. Do people think that is a good idea?
Why do these people want Embiid to limit himself? Old players in sports always do this. They refuse to acknowledge the game has changed from when they played. It is not a back-to-the-basket game anymore. Even in post-ups, you tend to face the basket. And that is a good thing. The game has a faster pace because of it. And Joel Embiid perfectly fits what you want a modern NBA center to be. There is a reason guys like Jahlil Okafor could not cut it in the league anymore. That style of play is dead. People always say “oh this modern player would never last in my era.” I think it is far more accurate to say “That older player would never cut it in today’s game.”
Hakeem is obviously one of the All-Time greats. Joel Embiid has stated that he is his idol. He modeled many parts of his game by him. Embiid even worked to replicate the Dream Shake. But Hakeem is flat-out wrong about Embiid. So are Shaq, and any of these old-school bigs who refuse to understand that their way of playing is in the past.
How you could watch Embiid play, and come away saying he needs to be in the paint more, is beyond me. Embiid post-ups more than all except one NBA player, Nikola Jokic. And the reason Jokic is posting up so much is because that is how their offense is run. The ball goes through him, so he can pass out of the post. That is his skillset. Embiid’s skillset is being able to score from anywhere on the court. Planting him in the post all game long would be wasting him. Embiid can do so much more from an offensive standpoint than score from the paint.
So good on Embiid for defending himself. This is a guy who if he can stay healthy, will be a future hall of famer and could go down as the best-scoring center of all time. Why on Earth would anyone want to change anything he does?