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Hakeem Olajuwon praises Joel Embiid, says traditional centers ‘will not work’ in today’s game

Hakeem Olajuwon, Joel Embiid, Sixers

Sixers big Joel Embiid has carved a place as one of the NBA’s best and most skilled centers due to his highly-versatile style of play. While the 7-foot, 280-pound behemoth can crush opponents with his towering size and strength, the Philadelphia 76ers big man operates in many sides of the floor, something his idol Hakeem Olajuwon has praised plenty.

Olajuwon, who became the first non-American player to earn MVP honors (1993-94 season), has seen the game evolve and made a clear observation — the days of the traditional post-up, bang-up center are far gone.

“You cannot be a traditional center in today’s game. It will not work. What a center should be is what Embiid is doing,” Olajuwon told Michael Lee of The Athletic. “You’ve got the low post. You’ve got the outside. When they call for it, you have to throw it in and they make it happen. It’s as effective as in any era – unless you cannot play. That’s different. We have dominating big men. We still would dominate. If you’re a dominant big man, you have so many advantages. Because first of all, you can dominate on the defensive end. Shotblocking. Rebounding. Intimidation. That’s the start. Then, if you get the ball in the post, and you’re skilled, it’s a mismatch. Embiid, you have no answer for him.”

Embiid has mastered just that, able to bully his opponents inside, pass to open teammates, and even punish from the outside — now shooting a much more reliable 38.9% from deep in his first nine games of the season. The 7-footer is also greatly skilled with his footwork, something he took from watching countless hours of an Olajuwon instructional DVD, way before the two met.

“He got it. From just watching,” Olajuwon said. “Not just doing it from the upper body, but the footwork. Mostly players do it from the upper body, but no, you beat them with the footwork. The move is all here. His footwork is incredible. And because it’s instinctive, he knows how to use it at the right time. You can work with somebody, they know it, but the application, when you have to apply it here, it doesn’t register. You might use it in the wrong place. No. He’s using it based on the challenges. Instinctively. So, it’s amazing to see a big man, self-taught, low post.”

Embiid has very high ambitions, including becoming the best player in the game — something Olajuwon knows a thing or two about after being crowned as the Most Valuable Player 25 years ago.