NBA

1 Reason the 76ers’ Joel Embiid Could Dominate the Eastern Conference This Season

The 76ers selected Joel Embiid with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but injuries forced him to sit out all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons before he was finally able to make his professional debut in the 2016-17 season, when he only played 31 games.

He still missed nearly 20 games in each of his next two seasons, playing in 63 games in 2017-18 and 64 in 2018-19. Now as he prepares for his fourth season in the NBA, the center may be ready to dominate the Eastern Conference — and there’s one major reason for optimism for the 25-year-old. Here’s what Embiid has done to try to improve his game and, more importantly, durability.

Joel Embiid’s career so far

In his injury-shortened rookie season, Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while playing just 25.4 minutes per game. Those numbers went up in his second season, as he averaged more than 30 minutes in his 63 games, scoring 22.9 points per game with 11 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest.

He had his best campaign to date last season, with his scoring average jumping to 27.5 points with his minutes per game going up about 10% to 33.7. Embiid also improved on his rebound and assist stats, averaging 13.6 and 3.7, respectively. The two-time All-Star is certainly on an upward trajectory in his career.

Joel Embiid ready to dominate?

The 76ers’ training camp opens at the beginning of October, and Joel Embiid may arrive at camp in the best shape of his life. His conditioning has been one of the biggest criticisms people have leveled at him in his career, but he worked on that this offseason.

Embiid has revealed in a One Chip Challenge video that he lost 25 pounds over the summer, bringing him down to about 250 pounds. The weight loss could be the key to Embiid being able to dominate the rest of the Eastern Conference because his slimmed down physique should lighten the load on his knees and ankles, which have plagued him in his career.

Carrying less weight should make Embiid more durable and allow the 76ers to play him more, not having to manage his workload as much as they have in the past.

Importance to the Sixers

Joel Embiid is more important to the 76ers than he has been in the past now that the team has lost J.J. Redick to free agency and Jimmy Butler, who the Sixers traded to the Heat in July as part of a four-team swap.

That leaves Embiid as the big man in the middle of a starting lineup that includes Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford — which could be one of the best in the NBA this season. Embiid’s improved health should help a 76ers team that was already good the last couple of seasons.

They are coming off of two straight seasons in which they won more than 50 games and made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, though they were unable to get farther than that either year. Now that Embiid is 25 pounds lighter, he should be quicker and have more endurance, enabling him to play even better than he has since entering the league.

Given the numbers he put up last season, if he improves as expected Embiid could put himself into the running to win the NBA MVP award this season. And he could also give the 76ers their best chance in a long time to win the NBA championship, which they haven’t done since the 1982-83 season.