Joel Embiid has had one of the most impressive seasons a big man has had in recent memory. He is a deserving MVP candidate and he has been one of the best players in the league. However, an argument can be made he is not the most valuable player on the Sixers.
That might sound absurd, but there is some logic there. Philly have gone long stretches without Joel Embiid and remained well above water. Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers tend to have their greatest struggles. The past two games without Simmons have been losses and they failed to contend with the Boston Celtics in last year’s playoffs. There are three main reasons that someone could argue against Joel being the most valuable member of the team.
The biggest factor working against Joel Embiid, and almost every traditional big in the NBA, is the extreme abundance of players who can fill that role competently. The Sixers have a pretty solid backup big with Dwight Howard. They even made do with players like Paul Reed and Tony Bradley filling in for Embiid when he was injured. Joel Embiid is one of the best centers in recent memory, but he is still a center nonetheless.
No backup center can replicate Embiid’s production, but they can replicate his role, specifically on defense. Embiid is a pure drop center in the pick and roll. He is excellent at this and he protects the rim very well, but a lot of seven footers can drop and deter guards at the rim. This replicability allows the Sixers to stay afloat with Embiid out without a huge drop in defensive efficiency. The offense has to change without their post-up hub, but they become a more egalitarian offense that thrives in transition and with shooting. This shift allows their offense to still have a sound theory without Embiid on the floor.
Versatility can be an overrated trait at times, but it does matter, specifically with centers. Joel Embiid is not a particularly versatile player on either end. He has to drop in the pick and roll and he doesn’t switch very well. His movement skills are good for a big, but not good enough to stay with wings or guards on the perimeter. Offensively, he is very reliant on post-face-ups, foul drawing, and isolation. He is not a great playmaker for others and he can be a black hole in the post at times. When he is out there, the Sixers offense revolves around him and he does not have much versatility to exist without that.
Joel Embiid sitting out gave the 76ers the same advantage any team gets when their star player is injured; the chance to experiment. They would run Ben Simmons at center surrounded by four shooters or they would try out some really weird and interesting bench lineups. The Sixers have the personnel to be an incredibly versatile defense when Simmons plays the five and they have a different pace too. Philly lacks a straw to stir the drink on offense without Embiid so they relied heavily on transition and shooting. The 76ers are more versatile on both ends without Embiid.
The Supporting Cast
The purpose of this piece is not to call Joel Embiid overrated, because he’s not. Embiid is likely the best center in the NBA and his dominance is felt nightly. More so, this piece is to highlight Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and the rest of the Sixers rotation. Philadelphia is a deep and talented team that wins in a lot of ways, not just post-ups. Tobias Harris has had an All-Star caliber season and Ben Simmons is one of the best, most versatile defenders in the league. The Philadelphia 76ers, as a whole, deserve more respect.