It has taken Joel Embiid 3 1/2 years, but he has finally made it to 82 career games. And though he's still growing as a player (23 turnovers in his last five games), Embiid has blossomed as the Sixers have added talent around him — most notably, Ben Simmons and JJ Redick. Though it might not mean anything right now, Embiid has scored more points through his first 82 games than Larry Bird and LeBron James did in theirs.
Here's a closer look at the Sixers' franchise center through what is the equivalent of a full NBA season:
Note: Plus/minus is per 100 possessions.
The saying in football is that a player's greatest ability is his "availability." That is definitely the case for Embiid, who can make fans hold their breath in amazement with a spin move one minute and put them in anguish with an awkward fall to the floor the next. Consider:
*The Sixers are 44-38 when he plays, a .537 winning percentage.
*They are 18-44 since his debut when he does not play, a .290 winning percentage.
*The Sixers were 15-36 last season when he did not play and are 3-8 this year when he's idle.
*With Embiid and Ben Simmons in the lineup this season, they are 30-20.
*Embiid has played in 25 of the last 27 games. He's averaging 23.4 points and 11.4 rebounds, and the Sixers are 17-8. Simmons has not missed a game in that span.
*Embiid's career high for consecutive games played is 11 (Dec. 31, 2017-Jan. 28, 2018). The Sixers went 8-3.
Here are the numbers for the first 82 career games of today's top centers:
Note: Vucevic was drafted by the Sixers in 2011. He played 51 games for Philadelphia in 2011-12 as a rookie and averaged 5.5 points. He was dealt to Orlando as part of the four-team deal that brought the Sixers Andrew Bynum (ugh). Vucevic averaged 10.8 points in career games 52 to 82 while with the Magic.
Career numbers for the top five picks (and other notables) from the class of 2014:
Notes: Wiggins, the class's rookie of the year, never played for Cleveland. He was traded to Minnesota in the deal that sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers. … Exum missed all of 2015-16 with a knee injury and has not played this season because of shoulder surgery. The emergence of rookie point guard Donovan Mitchell has left Exum's time in Utah precarious, to say the least. … Stauskas played 159 games for the Sixers. He was traded to Brooklyn in December and is averaging 5.0 points in 27 games for the Nets, who have dropped 15 of their last 17. … Saric, who has played his entire 142-game career with the Sixers, is fourth on the team in scoring this season at 14.8 ppg and is a relentless competitor. … Numbers are through Sunday's games.
The first 82 games for the Mount Rushmore of NBA centers — provided only for context, not to suggest Embiid is ready to join this list.
*Wilt, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, scored 50 points four times in his first 82 games, including 58 twice. He also had two other 50-point games in the playoffs of his rookie season, including a 50-point, 35-rebound game against Bill Russell and the Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston won that series in six.
*Russell played just 48 regular-season games as a rookie in 1956-57 because of his commitment to the U.S. Olympic team, which won the gold medal in Melbourne, Australia in late 1956. His game-by-game rebounding totals are incomplete. The number listed is his average for his first two full seasons.
*Abdul-Jabbar is the only player on this list to appear in all 82 games in his rookie season, when he also led the Bucks over the Sixers in a first-round playoff series win. Milwaukee was 27-55 the season before Abdul-Jabbar arrived, when he was known as Lew Alcindor. He changed his name after his second season, when Milwaukee also won its only NBA title.
*O'Neal played 81 games in his rookie season. He missed one game after he was suspended for punching Detroit's Alvin Robertson, who had stepped in the middle of a skirmish between Shaq and Bill Laimbeer (surprise). "If the man can't [guard] me," O'Neal fumed about Laimbeer afterward, "he shouldn't be in the game." … Orlando won 41 games in O'Neal's rookie season after winning just 21 the year before.
Joel Embiid is 10th in scoring among players who've started their careers after the NBA/ABA merger in 1976-77 and second, behind Blake Griffin, among players whose careers started in the 21st century. There are as many heavy hitters ahead of him as there are behind him. Here's a look:
Players who've averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds for their first 82 games since 1976-77: