• Jonathan Ebrahimi

Will Joel Embiid Become A Historically Great Center?

After two foot surgeries, multiple setbacks and two long years of trusting the process, 2016-2017 finally marked the beginning of Joel Embiid’s NBA career… and he hasn’t disappointed.

In a draft class that included Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker Embiid is making the case that, although he was the third overall selection, he may be the top talent from that draft class. Assuming that he stays healthy through to the end of the season, he is virtually a lock for this year’s Rookie of the Year and for the first time in a long time the Philadelphia faithful are finally excited about their basketball team.

But is all of this enthusiasm warranted? Can Joel Embiid really become an elite center? Certainly general consensus is that if he stays healthy he certainly has all of the tools to become a star in the NBA; however, history is littered with players who followed up incredible rookie campaigns with mediocre careers.

So in order to gage Joel Embiid’s potential for greatness, let’s take a look at how his debut season compares to some of the historically great NBA centers during their own rookie years:

At first glance, Embiid’s numbers don’t look great in comparison to the three Hall of Famers. He trails all three in scoring, blocked shots, and steals, plus his rebounding and field goal numbers aren’t even close to what the greats managed in their rookie years. But one of the reasons Embiid’s numbers look so low in comparison is entirely due to the minute restriction coach Brett Brown has in place. Thus far, Embiid is averaging only 25 minutes per game compared to the 35+ minutes per game played by Olajuwon, O’Neal and Robinson.

So to get a more accurate comparison, let’s now look at each player’s production per 36 minutes of playing time:

After adjusting for Embiid’s minute restriction, it’s arguable that he has the best stat-line out of all four players. He is the most versatile scorer on the list thanks to how well he can shoot from distance, and his rebounding and defensive stats are right on par with everyone else. In fact, Embiid’s Block Percentage (BLK%) which measures the percentage of the opponent’s shots that are blocked by the player, is higher than all three of the others and his (STL%) is higher than both O’Neal and Robinson.

Furthermore, Embiid looks as though he has a significantly better shooting touch than any of his predecessors as his free throw and 3-point rates are miles ahead. Since he is the only competent 3-point shooter on the list, he takes way more of his shots from behind the arc which in turn lowers his field goal percentage but increases the number of points scored per shot attempt. As dominant as Shaq was, just think of how unstoppable he could have been if he had a reliable shooting touch. There won’t be any ‘Hack-an-Embiid’ strategies being used any time soon.

Keep in mind, the above comparison is based solely on rookie seasons and by no means does this guarantee Embiid’s greatness. He still has to work hard every offseason and continue to build on his current talents. But it is interesting to see how he compares to the three Hall of Fame players listed above. They are all former league MVPs and they have each won multiple championships. Will Joel Embiid follow in their footsteps and become a league MVP? Will he eventually string together multiple championship-winning seasons?

I guess we’ll just have to trust the process.

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