Joel Embiid has had a hell of a rookie season thus far, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks through 31 games for the Philadelphia 76ers — but that is not enough to impress one of the most dominant centers of all-time — Shaquille O’Neal.
The Hall of Famer is one of the very few skeptics, quite hesitant to give his stamp of approval on the Cameroonian center.
“He’s playing good, but I think a lot of people will say, is he only doing it because he’s playing a little bit,” O’Neal told Robby Kalland of UPROXX Sports. “Not only [just playing] 28 minutes a night. Like, when I first came in I played 70 games my first year. That’s what the NBA’s all about. Play, day off, play, play, day off, day off, play. You know, five games in seven nights and that stuff. So, with him being able to just pick and choose when he wants to play, he always has fresh legs so he’s always going to have the advantage. And then, with nobody ever having seen him before, that also gives him another advantage. Now that people know he’s a pretty good player, when his minutes start to come up we’ll see.”
The Sixers have been very careful with their prized rookie center, given how he’s missed the first two seasons since being picked No. 3 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. Embiid started the season with a 22-minute limit and unable to play back-to-backs, per the recommendation of the medical staff. That limit was then lifted to 28 minutes, only going past the limit four times all season.
“I don’t give credit too early for one reason: I never got my credit early,” O’Neal said. “So, like, the problem with today’s game is everyone can do their own editing. So like now if he does a great play, I send it to you, you send it to him, he’ll tweet it and everyone will see it and that’s what’s in everyone’s mind. “Oh my god, he’s a great player,” but it takes more than one or two plays to be a great player. So I’m going to hold back my thoughts. However, he’s pretty good and I like what I see. But I wonder if he has an advantage because he plays 28 minutes a game and takes two games off.”
Shaq has been known as the toughest big man critic of the modern era, expecting just about every big man (Hi, Dwight Howard) to average 28 points and 15 rebounds to garner his attention (O’Neal never averaged more than 13.6 rebounds in a season).
Joel Embiid possesses a rare package for a big man, making free throws at a 78.6 percent clip and being a competent threat from beyond the arc, making an impressive 36.7 percent of his attempts.