Philadelphia 76ers: Where does Joel Embiid rank among the NBA’s top centers?

Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images) /
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Philadelphia 76ers
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Joel Embiid

This season, Joel Embiid has shown growth from last year’s All-NBA season, improving in almost every statistical category. When you take a quick look at this year’s stats, it is really quite amazing to think that he started playing basketball less than a decade ago. To this date, his year-to-year improvement has almost been linear, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NBA.

Averaging a career best in just about every category, Embiid has forced NBA fans to consider him when discussing the top 5 players in the league. Joel is scoring 27.3 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting. Paired with 13.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, Embiid is a monster force on both ends of the floor, and rightfully has found himself in Defensive Player of the Year talks for the second season in a row.

Embiid has also been sent to the free throw line at a pace only comparable to James Harden. He is shooting 10.4 free throws per game at an 81.2 percent clip which is simply game changing for the 76ers. This puts Joel third in terms of free throw percentage, but he shoots twice as many free throws as Towns and Jokic, who shoot slightly better than him.

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The area of Joel’s game that I have seen the most improvement is his passing. He has always been a fairly strong passing big man, but this season he seems to be guard-like in his abilities. He is averaging a career-best 3.4 assists per game, but he has also dropped his turnovers down to 3.6 per game. Though not perfect, the consistent improvement in his ability to move the ball makes him a more dangerous player to double in the post.

The jokes thrown at Embiid in his early seasons about his injuries and his likely status as a bust are very scarcely heard now. With Joel, and any player, the best ability is availability. This season, Embiid has been a staple in the Sixers lineup aside from a brief stint on the bench after the All-Star break. He is on pace to play a career high in games, already playing 61 this season. The 76ers are still protecting Embiid with some rest days on back-to-backs but an array of NBA stars are doing the same, most notably LeBron James.

While statistics are very useful in this argument, the eye test tells you just as much as any combination of numbers will. The edge that Embiid has played with this season has made him one of the most dreaded matchups on either side of the ball. His ability to switch on to much quicker guards and use his length to either keep them in front of him, or backtrack and block them if they are able to drive past him makes him incredibly valuable.

The 76ers are also a completely different team with Embiid off the floor. Their defensive energy usually lacks, and the floor doesn’t spread as well on the offensive end, where Embiid usually draws the double team down low. There is no arguing that Embiid is a top 5 center in the NBA, but where does he actually fall on that list?