Joel Embiid has a chance to be the most dominant center in the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal. What better way to meet that expectation than to learn from the big man himself? Embiid is reportedly doing just that, reaching out to O’Neal and getting advice from him between games.
O’Neal has an inconsistent history when it comes to helping big men. But if he is willing to mentor Embiid, it may be beneficial to both Embiid’s game and O’Neal’s legacy.
Joel Embiid’s true potential
As they often do, O’Neal and Charles Barkley criticized Embiid for not using his size and dominance to its full potential. Embiid puts up magnificent numbers, but his occasionally clunky performances and distracting antics can diminish this perception.
In a league where few players play like Embiid, he can tend to go outside and try to shoot the long ball rather than pound the ball down low. O’Neal was blunt in his criticism, stating that Embiid can be great, but he doesn’t try hard enough to realize his true potential.
The former Lakers star believes Embiid is good enough to put up 28 or 30 points per game, not just the 22 points he currently makes on just 45.8% from the field. In one particularly bad performance, Embiid put up zero points against the Toronto Raptors.
Rather than fire back at the two Hall of Famers, Embiid took a different route and reached out for help.
Seeking out Shaquille O’Neal
When Embiid reached out, O’Neal thought the 76ers big man wanted to argue. After all, O’Neal tends to anger people with both his jokes and analyses. This was not the case, however, as Embiid recounted in a series of tweets from The Athletic’s Clevis Murray.
“He thought I was mad at him. I was like, ‘Nah.’ I understand what he was saying,” Embiid said, according to Murray. “I’ve had a down year so far. I just wanted to talk to him. I’ve been kind of frustrated.”
O’Neal has a lot he could teach Embiid. After all, he was a player who could have a reputation as immature and lazy. Like Embiid, O’Neal tended to grab headlines for childish antics just as often as he did for his play. The former center has mentored players in the past.
After taking up an ownership stake with the Sacramento Kings, O’Neal helped mentor DeMarcus Cousins as he became one of the best NBA centers. So, at surface level, it makes sense that Embiid would reach out.
O’Neal had a nearly two-decade career and a boatload of knowledge to impart to a new generation. On the other hand, some wonder if O’Neal is the best mentor given his history of responding poorly to criticism and perceived jabs.
Is Shaquille O’Neal the right mentor for Joel Embiid?
O’Neal can seem like a jovial guy who wants the best for NBA centers. The big man used his physical gifts to make opponents suffer, and yes, he had his fair share of moments where he distracted. On paper, all of this makes O’Neal an ideal candidate for Embiid’s mentor.
On the flip side, however, O’Neal has a reputation for being petty and vindictive when people discuss him and his game. He is, after all, the man who incited a years-long feud with Dwight Howard over his use of the Superman nickname — one that was supposed to be a tribute to O’Neal’s days with the Magic.
O’Neal often talks about the work ethic of guys who do not perform to his standards. But it is often in the service of propping himself up. He speaks about working hard but ignores the fact that he was often accused of taking games off and entering NBA seasons out of shape. As good as he was, many believe he could have been even better if he heeded his own advice.
O’Neal is human, just like Embiid. But if he wants Embiid to improve through his mentorship, he’ll have to do some soul-searching and think about what he, too, could have done to better himself.