Joel Embiid’s great season might be surprising to some, just not the 76ers.
“Not to sound arrogant or anything, but we kind of expected this ever since he has starting playing, watching him sit out and see how much work he’s put in," T.J. McConnell said.
The reserve point guard recalled how Embiid dominated in the 31 games he played during the 2016-17 campaign after missing his first two seasons because of two foot surgeries. The All-Star center’s third season was cut short because of a left knee injury, which also required surgery.
“Dominating like that and just continuing to get better, there is only room for improvement, which is really scary,” McConnell said. “But the year he is having doesn’t surprise a lot of us here.”
If not for Houston Rockets guard James Harden, Embiid would get more league-MVP hype.
Harden, the reigning MVP, averaged a league-best 35.7 points and had scored at least 32 in 20 consecutive games as of Tuesday. He also scored at least 30 on 30 occasions this season. Embiid had the league’s second-most 30-plus-point outings with 22.
Embiid is also the fifth player since the NBA-ABA merger to have at least 20 games with 30-point and 10-rebound efforts before the All-Star Game. He joins New Orleans Pelicans post player Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Moses Malone, a former Sixer, in that group.
“I’ve been with him now for five years,” coach Brett Brown said of Embiid, the third pick of the 2014 NBA draft. “You see the growth that he has gone through two navicular injuries, gaining weight, unsure if he was going to play.”
While rehabilitating during the 2015-16 season, Embiid made two trips to Doha, Qatar, to visit Aspetar, an orthopedic and sports medicine hospital. The world-renowned facility serves as the official sports medicine partner of French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. His first trip was in February 2016 around the NBA All-Star break. The second was in late March of that season.
Averaging 20.2 points in just 25.4 minutes, Embiid was the front-runner to win rookie of the year in 2016-17. However, he ended up third, behind winner Malcolm Brogdon of Milwaukee and former teammate Dario Saric, after missing 51 games that season.
“Then he was able to come back and be rewarded with a contract [extension] to be in the MVP conversation,” Brown said.
Entering the game Wednesday against the Spurs, Embiid was tied with Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert atop the NBA with 39 double-doubles. Thirteen came in his last 15 games. He was also seventh in the league in scoring (27.1 points per game), fourth in rebounds (13.2), and seventh in blocks (1.98).