We had the great opportunity to talk to Andre’ Snellings about Joel Embiid and the impact he has had for the Philadelphia 76ers so far.
Joel Embiid is taking the league by storm this season, surprising all of his doubters after he sat his first two years out with injury. While Sixers fans are certainly the most excited, it hasn’t just been them that were excited about Embiid and his impact on the game so far. Outsiders are wowed as well.
One of the outsiders who has observed Embiid and looked into his play so far is Andre’ Snellings, the creator of the Hoops Lab Blog. Snellings is also a senior writer at RotoWire and a contributor to Nylon Calculus and TYTSports. He also had the honor of being named Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association not once, but twice.
He also has an article coming out for Nylon Calculus that dives into how statistically great Embiid has been so far this season.
Without further ado, here is the interview we were privileged to have with Andre.
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From a statistical standpoint, how special is Embiid not only compared to his rookie class, but the rest of the league?
Per minute, there is a legitimate argument that Joel Embiid is having the best statistical rookie season for any center back to at least Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970. I’ve got an article coming out this week on Nylon Calculus that puts numbers to support that statement. But, the crux of the argument is two-part: 1) Embiid is scoring at an unheard-of per minute volume for rookie centers, really off the charts, while maintaining a very high scoring efficiency and 2) Embiid has a defensive statistical profile that puts him right there with the best big defenders of the past 40 years, as rookies.
When you put those two elements together, Embiid has jokingly lapped the field in this rookie class… he should be Rookie of the Year even if he doesn’t play another minute this season. Outside of the rookie class, he is still extremely impressive. Per minute, he has probably has an argument to be on an All NBA team as a rookie. However, considering his minutes restriction, overall he can’t be put on the pedestal with the best-of-the-best of players this season. But even with that minutes restriction, I still think he has a good argument to be an All Star… which is remarkable for a rookie averaging only 25 minutes a game.
Is there any ceiling you can predict at this point for Embiid, or do you think it’s going to be dependent on how many minutes he can play per game over the course of his career?
Embiid’s ceiling is all about health. As pointed out in the question above, Embiid has been as impressive statistically per minute as any rookie center in the past 40 years. But outside of the statistics, there are other clear reasons to be very optimistic about Embiid’s ceiling:
- Physical size. Embiid is a giant with excellent timing and skills, even after a long layoff prior to this season. As such, his already demonstrably large defensive impact should only get larger as he gets more experience and feel for the league.
- Defense first. There was a thought that truly dominant defensive centers might be a thing of the past in today’s positionless league, but Embiid is showing the potential to be as dominant on that end as the greats of the past. This is unique in today’s NBA.
- Offensive skill-set with perimeter skills: There’s an article on on how Embiid is like a guard in disguise. There’s video of Embiid running the Iverson-cut across court and then attacking from there off the dribble. One of the reasons that the old-school big dominant defensive centers like Dikembe Mutombo were thought of as relics of the past is that the NBA has changed on offense, and those types of centers are prohibitive to offenses. Embiid is the best of both worlds, capable of thriving in 2010s-style offenses while playing 1990s-type defense.
Physically and skill-wise, Embiid has all the tools. But the elephant in the room is that he has missed the past two full seasons with lower-body injuries. With huge centers, often those types of repetitive injuries are chronic career issues. So far so good, this season, but it will always be a worry.
How do you feel about players resting when healthy (example being the team deciding to not play him on back-to-backs)?
For this player, on this 76ers team, I think the minutes restriction is brilliant. The team isn’t trying to compete this season, so no need to risk him (unlike, if you watch baseball, how ridiculous I thought it was for the Washington Nationals to shut down their prize rookie pitcher when they had a chance to compete for a title a few years back). Embiid is able to get all of the seasoning and experience that the 76ers need from him in limited minutes, advancing the process with a more acceptable level of risk. Plus, Embiid was coming off multiple seasons off with the type of injuries that can become chronic, has no established NBA stamina, and we JUST saw Greg Oden have to retire this season.
There are times and situations where it’s a bit of a nuisance when players rest for maintenance. But for a franchise-changing rookie coming off two seasons of injury, I’m fine with it.
Stacking Embiid up to the other new-era big men in the league (Kristaps, KAT) who is your favorite at the moment, and who do you think will be the best looking back on each of their careers?
This is an impossible question for me to answer, because there are just too many shining young stars right now. And all of them are potential game-changers in different ways. I think Embiid has the highest defensive potential and could be a devastating offensive player too, though I think his best role would be as a secondary offensive player instead of the main guy. MVP potential.
I think Karl-Anthony Towns has the most diverse offensive skill-set of the young centers, the type of offensive game that could allow him to be a primary offensive option in today’s NBA, but his defense needs to come a long way. He does have the tools to be a great defensive big, though, and if he reaches his potential at both ends he also has future MVP potential.
I don’t think Kristaps Porzingis necessarily has clear MVP upside, but if Embiid and Towns are (upsider-wise) potentially the Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett of the young bigs, I think Porzingis is the Dirk Nowitzki. In other words, he still projects as a game-changing type player that, if everything goes right, could flirt with being the best in the league in a given year himself.
Finally, I’d add Nikola Jokic to that list as well. He doesn’t have the athletic upside of the others, but he is a brilliant passer which gives him an offensive upside as a team-hub that the other three don’t have. Definite future impact player.
Total package, including health history, I probably have KAT at the top of the list with Embiid just behind, ahead of Porzingis and Jokic. But all of them deserve to be in the conversation, and it wouldn’t be shocking for any of this group to be the best when looking back in 15 years.