2 76ers that have earned untouchable status, 4 that need to be cut loose

James Harden (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
James Harden (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /
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Philadelphia 76ers; One Joel Embiid trade for every NBA team
Philadelphia 76ers; One Joel Embiid trade for every NBA team /

2nd Untouchable: Joel Embiid

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wow, what a controversial statement…hang onto the reigning MVP, such in-depth analysis…”

And I’m actually totally with you, but I thought I would end the “Can you win a title with Embiid as your best player” argument right here and now for posterity. Yes, you can.

Whether you, your friends, or your dog think of Embiid as a franchise cornerstone, it is plainly undeniable that he is one of the two most physically dominant players in the world, with Giannis being his only real competition for the belt.

But his superpower isn’t his brutal physicality alone. Rather, it’s how he marshals it to make his opponents feel helpless.

His pick-and-light roll move to the free throw line might just be the single most difficult spot to defend in basketball because he has three full ways to beat you from it. If you hang back, trying to keep him in front of you, he’ll just splash a 15-footer. But play too far up, his two-step explosiveness to either side will result in a ferocious slam over whoever is unlucky enough to bring help-side defense.

If, by some miracle, you manage to stay in front of Embiid, you better watch where you’re putting your hands because guess what: you’re about to commit a foul. Embiid is the world’s best practitioner of the low-pickup, throw-your-arms-up-into-the-defenders-arms move to draw a foul, something patented by James Harden around 2016. When healthy, watching Embiid feels like looking at an alternative universe Shaquille O’Neal that learned how to shoot free throws.

The 76ers have struggled to find Embiid a running mate, and he’s run through three different All-NBA teammates without getting past the first round. It’s worth asking if Embiid needs to retool how he can make his teammates better because if there’s a knock on his offensive game, it’s his tunnel vision. Sometimes a well-placed double team can catch him staring at the hoop and cause major chaos, so Embiid will have to improve as a post-playmaker if he wants to become truly unstoppable.

But I have some thoughts on his current running mate, coming up later.