Joel Embiid lands at 6 on our list of the best players for the upcoming 2022-2023 season. Embiid went from missing his first two seasons due to injury to consecutive second-place finishes in MVP voting to back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokić. He enters this season surrounded by arguably the most cohesive supporting cast of his career.
Embiid also enters the season bearing the brunt of enormous team expectations. The Philadelphia 76ers have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs in his career. Unfortunate injuries and flawed teammates have played their roles in those disappointing finishes. The latter, at least, shouldn’t be an issue this season. What will Embiid have in store for his opponents?
Embiid and his contemporary Jokić have redefined how a center can create offense. Both are adept post-up artists, and Embiid presents the most menacing physical presence on the block since prime Shaquille O’Neal. In addition, both can handle the ball above the three-point line to create shots for themselves and their teammates. They lead a revolution as significant to the game as Stephen Curry forever warping the geometry of the court. Embiid and Jokić are Victor Wembanyama’s forbearers.
It’s a tad ironic (don’t ya think?), then, that a full season teaming with James Harden means Embiid will be required to create his own offense away from the basket far less often than in the past two seasons. Harden and the emerging Tyrese Maxey partner to form the most threatening perimeter attack in Philly since the days of Jimmy Butler.
Embiid is simply dominant on offense. He can either batter opponents physically, or use his balletic footwork to dance to the basket. He made a staggering 73.5% of his shots at the basket last season. The 7’0”, 280-pound center complemented that by shooting 37% from three, with few attempts in the shorter corners. Embiid took nearly 4 threes per 36 minutes last season, which is closer to Mikal Bridges or teammate Tobias Harris than the average center.
And you could make the case that Embiid is better on defense than offense! The 76ers were tied for 10th in defense last season despite the absence of Ben Simmons. That meant Embiid, Matisse Thybulle, and Danny Green were the only plus defenders in the rotation. In addition, Maxey, Harden, and Seth Curry gave opponents multiple players to attack all season. Embiid is one of the game’s best rim protectors, and those light feet help him hold up defending the perimeter when needed.
The Sixers did solid work this offseason and enter with great expectations. Their success begins and ends with Embiid, obviously, but he’s surrounded by talent that makes more sense than in years past. Embiid’s presence lessens the defensive attention on Harden, who in turn should be able to set Embiid up for better shots than any previous teammate. Maxey’s youthful exuberance can carry the offense for extended regular-season stretches. Any team that calls Harris a fourth option has a wealth of offensive talent.
New additions P.J. Tucker and De’Anthony Melton (acquired via draft-night trade) are defense-leaning role players who can shoot well enough to be guarded on offense. Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell continue the Houston reunion theme, the latter representing an incredible luxury for the Sixers to have on nights when Embiid sits.
“Nights when Embiid sits”…how many of those will there be, exactly? Despite Embiid being squarely in his prime (he turns 29 in March), this season feels like it could go two distinct ways. Will Embiid see the talent around him, arrive in the best shape of his career, and dominate throughout the regular season en route to a much-deserved MVP award? Or will Embiid see the talent around him, realize he can play at about 75% capacity and still secure a top-4 seed for his team, and save himself for the playoffs?
Embiid played 2297 minutes last season, 46th in the league. He proved his durability in a season defined by league-wide COVID protocol absences and numerous injuries after two seasons of compressed scheduling. Either outcome is justifiable for Embiid, particularly when he’s suffered multiple postseason injuries in his career.
Embiid enters this season with little surrounding drama, a rarity in his career so far. There may be some lingering concerns about Harden’s hamstring, or how all the new pieces will mesh, but there’s no storyline issue with which to contend. The only concerns for Embiid are to win an MVP and a championship. Simple, right?
There will be health concerns because those will surround Embiid for the rest of his career. If he can stay healthy, there’s nothing preventing him from showing a post-first player can be the first option on a championship team. He can also demonstrate he’s the type of center who remains effective on defense against a smaller opponent in the playoffs. All Embiid has to do is prove it.