Joel Embiid Winning the Scoring Title Has Doomed the Philadelphia 76ers’ NBA Championship Chances

The 2021-2022 NBA regular season has come to a close, and Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid has officially won his first scoring title.

Now, some will say the accomplishment comes with an asterisk as some of the big contenders, namely LeBron James and Kevin Durant, were ineligible because they didn’t play enough games to qualify. Others have pointed to the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo sat the season’s final game for the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

But can we give Embiid a little credit here?

Yes, LeBron, who averaged 30.3 points per game for the disappointing Lakers, fell two games short of the 58 needed to qualify. And Durant, who put up 29.9 points for the Nets, fell three short. But there’s no guarantee either would have reached the necessary mark.

And let’s say Giannis did suit up for the Bucks on Sunday in their regular-season finale against the Cavaliers. With Embiid himself sitting out on the campaign’s final day with knee soreness, Antetokounmpo would have had to score 78 points to clinch his first scoring title. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

And how about the game Embiid had on Saturday to get to the winning total of 30.6 points per game? In 37 minutes in the Sixers’ 133-120 win over the Pacers, the five-time All-Star shot made 14 of 17 shots from the floor — a ridiculous 82.4% — and 11 of 15 shots from the foul line for a game-high 41 points. It likely made Milwaukee’s decision to sit Giannis against Cleveland a bit easier.

But as great of an accomplishment as winning a scoring title is, the Sixers might have been better off had he not done so.

Joel Embiid winning the scoring title may not be good news for the Philadelphia 76ers’ championship chances

Joel Embiid during a Philadelphia 76ers-Toronto Raptors matchup
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on against the Toronto Raptors during the first half of their basketball game at the Scotiabank Arena on April 7, 2022 | Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Again, let’s not take anything away from Embiid here. He appeared in 68 games, the most of his young career and a solid number given his history. And it’s certainly not easy for a big man to win a scoring title these days given how the game has changed.

In fact, the Cameroon native is the first center to win the scoring title in more than two decades. The last to do it? Shaquille O’Neal for the Lakers in his MVP season of 1999-2000, the same year he won his first NBA championship.

Now, that may seem like great news for Embiid and the Sixers. But Shaq is more an exception than the rule regarding scoring champs winning titles. Only five men have won a scoring title and an NBA title in the same season in three-quarters of a century: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joe Fulks, Michael Jordan, George Mikan, and Shaquille O’Neal.

That’s quite a list.

O’Neal was obviously the last to do it. Kareem (then known as Lew Alcindor) did so for the Bucks in 1970-1971. Jordan was the true exception as he won the scoring title during each of his six championship-winning seasons with the Bulls.

And for those unfamiliar with Fulks, he was the very first scoring champ back in 1946-47 when the then-Philadelphia Warriors won the inaugural Basketball Association of America title. The BAA, of course, rebranded as the NBA in 1949 after absorbing the majority of the National Basketball League. The Warriors get credit for the title, so we’re putting Fulks on the list.

The same goes for Mikan, who was the scoring champ when the then-Minneapolis Lakers won the BAA title in 1949, the last before the rebrand. Mikan also achieved the feat the following year when the Lakers won the NBA championship.

So that’s 11 seasons out of 75 in which a scoring champion was also an NBA champion. That comes out to 14.7%, which isn’t great but could be worse. But take MJ out of the equation and you’re down to 6.7%. I’m guessing the Sixers would like better odds than that to win their first title in close to four decades.

But given the way James Harden has shot the ball since arriving in Philly, those odds seem about right.

Joel Embiid begins his hopeful march toward history when the fourth-seeded 76ers start their first-round series against the Raptors at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

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