As Ben Simmons watches from home, Joel Embiid is becoming the man in Philly. The 27-year-old is playing at an MVP level for the Philadelphia 76ers while his teammate continues his season-long holdout.
Whether Embiid wins the MVP or not remains to be seen. But his heroic efforts have earned him a starting spot in next month’s NBA All-Star Game, his fifth overall selection. He also garnered praise from legendary center Shaquille O’Neal, who explained why The Process deserves respect while simultaneously blasting the absent Simmons.
Joel Embiid is headed to the All-Star Game
In an MVP race that seems to get juicier by the day, Embiid is in the thick of things. Though regardless of who hoists the award at season’s end, the 7-footer is a slam dunk All-Star choice. The big man joins captain Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, and Trae Young as Eastern Conference starters.
Through 36 games, Embiid is averaging a career-high 29.0 points on 49.9% shooting from the field and 38.0% shooting from three. Only Kevin Durant (29.2) and LeBron James (29.1) are averaging more than the third-overall pick from 2014. The Cameroonian is also second in the NBA in PER (player efficiency rating) behind Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP.
While Embiid’s overall numbers are incredible, it’s the last 18 games that really elevated him into the MVP discussion. Since Dec. 16, the 7-footer leads the league with 34.2 points per game. During that stretch, Embiid has dropped 30 or more points 15 times. The most impressive of those was when Embiid scored 50 points in only 27:03 of game time against the Orlando Magic.
With Embiid rolling, the 76ers have gone from 15-15 to 28-19. Now, Philly is in the heart of the Eastern Conference race without Simmons. The 25-year-old point guard has sat out for the entirety of the season after requesting a trade last offseason.
Shaquille O’Neal sang the praises of Joel Embiid and destroyed Ben Simmons in the process
Big men have to look out for one another, right? That’s how Shaq feels, anyway.
The Hall of Fame center was part of the NBA Tip-Off crew on TNT during the official All-Star starter announcement. Shortly after Embiid was interviewed, O’Neal praised the five-time All-Star while unleashing on Simmons.
“The difference between [Embiid] and his soft partner is he can take criticism without being a crybaby and he still wants to play. Because me and Charles [Barkley], we’ve been on him. We tell him to his face what he needs to do. He didn’t cry, say ‘I want to be traded’ or complain about mistreatment, and that’s the difference. That’s why I like him and respect him. The other guy, I don’t respect.”Shaquille O’Neal
The criticism of Simmons, a three-time All-Star in his own right, didn’t end there. O’Neal, who roasted Simmons a day earlier, further explained the problem he has with the guard’s ability to handle criticism.
“You’re missing a whole season because they asked your coach a question, ‘Can we win without you?’ and your coach gave a funny answer. That should tell you you need to get in during the summertime and work on your game,” Shaq explained. “You don’t think I’ve been criticized by you guys and Stephen A. [Smith]? You don’t think I’ve been criticized by LA media, New York media? Great players get criticized, but great players also step up to the criticism and perform. This other guy, I don’t respect him. I would get rid of him.”
Shaq calling Simmons a crybaby is a stark departure from earlier comments. Just after the start of the season, the four-time champion admitted he had to be more sympathetic to Simmons’ mental health.
The Philadelphia 76ers need to make a Ben Simmons decision soon
In a perfect world, both Embiid and Simmons would be leading the 76ers toward a championship. But reality says Embiid is on his own in that endeavor, leaving the Sixers with a decision to make.
O’Neal punctuated his rant by saying he would move on from Simmons. That’s something Philly is actively trying to do, however, its price remains high. With the trade deadline fast approaching, the Sixers might need to come down on their asking price and move Simmons to any of his interested suitors. If not, they risk wasting an epic season from Embiid.
The Simmons saga has brought a dark cloud over what would otherwise be a fun season. Embiid is playing like the best player in the league, a collection of young guards are stepping up, and the 76ers are in the mix to win a playoff series or two. But the number one story surrounding Philadelphia is if (or when) the team finally moves on from the 2016 first-overall pick.
In the meantime, the Sixers should celebrate Embiid and his accomplishments. But as Shaq said, it might be better to just cut ties with their $177 million malcontent once and for all.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.