Joel Embiid scores 50, Dominates in Historic Fashion in 112-105 Win versus Chicago
Joel Embiid called for the ball at the three-point line, in the final moments of a close game versus the Chicago Bulls. Wendell Carter Jr. the Bulls starting center had fought valiantly all game versus Embiid. Nevertheless, Embiid took a dribble towards the basket, setting Carter Jr. on his heels, then dribbled left, and pulled up for a fadeaway 22' shot from the wing.
It's the kind of shot you can't defend, especially when taken by a 7-foot tall center. As the shot went through the net, Embiid looked up at the empty stands, and the dozen or so media members and raised his hands. On a normal night, when scoring a career-high 50 points, in a win at home, the Center in South Philadelphia would have hit a crescendo not witnessed since the Allen Iverson era.
Like Iverson in 2001, Embiid is making a case as league MVP while also putting on a show.
But what is making Embiid so unstoppable this season is leaning on a tool that so very few players are good enough to use: The Mid Range pull-up.
"That's what makes me unguardable." Said Embiid Friday night when asked about how the face-up jumper helps keeps defenses honest against him. "If you're gonna crowd me, I'm gonna find my way to the free-throw line or I'm gonna end up in the basket and if you back up on me, I got a shot." Continued Embiid explaining his three-level scoring ability that is nearly unprecedented among 7 footers in NBA history.
Embiid continued "my favorite, just pull up shot, just the easy shot (it isn't) and always get on the post". Embiid is talking about shots that are specifically coached out of modern NBA teams. In fact, defenses, including the Sixers routinely create soft zones inside of the three-point line where they are willing to let most players take low-efficiency shots. In order for a pull-up mid-range shot to be analytically worth taking, a player must make at least 55% of them. The league on average makes 43% of these shots. Joel Embiid makes them at a 58% clip while still managing to draw fouls. This is a huge secret to his dominance this season.
And taking that leap from three-time all-star to Godzilla level MVP caliber player has not happened by accident. Joel Embiid was already a dominant center in a league that has tried its best to legislate big men out of it, in favor of three-pointers and dunks. The book on how to defend Embiid, prior to this year, was to double and triple-team him on the block and send help defenders from multiple angles so he couldn't get comfortable. Adding in the face-up game changes the calculus for teams entirely. Embiid talked about the work he's done to evolve.
"Just dribbling the ball and just making things happen and I've been adding a lot to my game." Said Embiid "And you know, it's been working well and but I'm excited because that's what you need in the playoffs especially when you got to play a team four to seven times and I got a game plan." Said Embiid, his mind on the long-term results more than his 50 points 17 rebounds, 5 assist night. "I'm gonna have to shoot over and over teams sometimes, you know, I gotta pass sometimes I got to figure that out and play through doubles and triple teams and you know, those type of shots you can't guard. You can't guard the step back, you can't guard catch and shoot shot."
Embiid added, looking even further into the future "I think also those shots are going to help me play for the next 10 to 15 years"
Embiid finished his press conference talking about how his primary goal individually was to win Defensive Player of the Year, but as he left the seat, he whispered "Also MVP"
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