Now that the dust has settled on the Philadelphia 76ers’ disappointing finish to the 2022-2023 season, let’s discuss Joel Embiid’s legacy and where he ranks as an all-time franchise player.
Joel Embiid was drafted 3rd overall out of Kansas in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. After sitting out the first two seasons due to lingering knee injuries, the big man finally made his highly anticipated debut in 2016. That season, Embiid would go on to average 20.2 points per game on 46% shooting, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting due in large part to the fact that he played only 31 games.
The 2016-2017 campaign was only the beginning for Embiid. In the six seasons since his rookie year, Embiid has put together one of the most impressive resumes in the Philadelphia 76ers’ history. He has made six All-Star teams, five All-NBA teams, and three All-Defensive teams, and has been the scoring champion each of the last two seasons.
Embiid’s biggest accomplishment thus far is winning this year’s NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award, for his performance during the regular season. Of the 66 games he played this year, he scored over 30 points in 44 of them, including a 59-point performance on November 13th. All in all, Embiid averaged 33.1 points to go along with 10.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, and in the process became the first Sixer to win the award since Allen Iverson back in 2001.
There is no doubt 76ers’ Embiid is a generational talent.
There is doubt however about his ability to perform when it matters most, in the playoffs. The 76ers have made the playoffs six years in a row, which is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself. However, the team has failed to make it past the second round, losing three times in a winner takes all Game 7.
While the Sixers’ playoff woes are not solely on Embiid, his play in the postseason has left much to be desired. He is averaging just 24 points per game on 46% shooting in the playoffs, which pales in comparison to his career regular-season average of 27.2 on 50% shooting. In elimination games, he has struggled shooting just 38% and averaging 5.3 turnovers per game. This year’s performance was the most disappointing as Embiid scored only 15 points on 5-18 shooting and had a +/- of -28. Due to his playoff struggles, many fans are beginning to wonder if the process has run its course.
While Embiid’s legacy has been hindered by his lack of postseason success, it is hard to overlook the impact the big man has had on the 76ers organization. In his seven seasons, he has climbed up the ranks as one of the best players to ever wear a Sixers uniform. Embiid ranks eighth in franchise history in points with 10,718. This year he passed Andre Iguodala and Maurice Cheeks on the all-time list despite having only played 394 games compared to 615 for Iguodala and 853 for Cheeks.
As far as points per game, Embiid’s average of 27.2 ranks just behind Hall of Famers Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain who both posted an average of 27.6. He ranks first in team history in player efficiency rating (27.9), which takes into account a player’s positive and negative statistical contributions. Despite playing a position that is not known historically to take a lot of threes, he ranks seventh in team history with 455, which is 450 more than point guard Ben Simmons.
As far as all-time Philadelphia 76ers, Embiid deserves a spot in the top ten.
He can jump even higher if he continues to perform at a high level and stays healthy. As it stands, I would rank Embiid seventh behind Allen Iverson, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Hal Greer (in no particular order). What separates these players from Embiid is specifically their postseason success. Erving, Chamberlain, and Greer all won a title during their tenure with the team, with the latter two teaming up to win in 1967.
While Iverson and Barkley did not win a championship, they both advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals which is further than Embiid’s Sixers teams ever have. Barring an unthinkable trade, he will likely finish his career at the top of most of the team’s individual statistics. He is on pace to become the fifth Sixers player drafted to make the Hall of Fame. As it stands, every MVP in NBA History has made the Hall of Fame which makes Embiid’s chances highly likely if he remains healthy.
Ultimately, Embiid’s legacy will be shaped by his ability to lead the 76ers to postseason success and potentially win a championship. While the disappointment of recent playoff exits may cloud his current standing, his talent and potential for future accomplishments make him a significant figure in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise.