Joel Embiid has faced two primary challenges during his NBA career. The first is staying healthy. The second is remembering to remember that, if he wants to, he can dominate the game on both ends on the court in an almost unstoppable fashion. When he forgets and falls in love with his outside jumper, production goes down. It's almost as if his great blessings become curses. As if he has too much talent to organize and translate to the hardwood.
The 7-footer appears to have done some cleaning in the offseason. Perhaps he took a lesson from Marie Kondo. Because he finding ways to spark joy in himself and the collective Philadelphia 76ers family in this, his sixth and most astounding season.
His new, less cluttered life and game were on display last night as the Sixers took down Utah in what could be an NBA Finals preview. Embiid was otherworldly, going for 40 points and snaring 19 rebounds while showcasing a glimpse of a redemption story waiting to happen in the postseason. Embiid is playing with unrivaled confidence and enjoying the hell out of being the best player on the planet on any given night.
And that sentence is not hyperbole. Embiid is unguardable if locked in. Capable of dropping 45 and 20 if so inspired. Capable of posting 27 and 10 on a bad night. He's perhaps not fully realized, but basking in the success that's come with the realization that the paint is his friend, not his foe. That physicality is something to be embraced not meted out in small doses.
Embiid is second in the NBA in scoring (30.2 and fourth (11.6) in rebounding. The league hasn't seen a player score 30-plus points per game while grabbing at least 11 rebounds per contest since Karl Malone did it in 1989-90. Before that it was Moses Malone in 1981-82. Before that was Bob McAdoo who did it three straight years for the Buffalo Braves. As a general rule of thumb, if you have to harken back to something a basketball player did in Buffalo, it's a select and noteworthy accomplishment.
His was always a career destined for high highs and low lows. It's been easier to identify the latter as he nears 27, which is understandable, especially when one remembers he entered this season with only 209 games played. Though he's been in the shared consciousness for what feels like forever, he's still becoming a fully-formed player.
Never before has his clear ability to carry a team to a title been so evident. We're getting a look at the ceiling and it's breathtaking. Those two challenges will persist. Staying healthy is a tall task. So too is maintaining this consistency. But the numbers and results don't lie. Embiid is providing a historically great impact for a big man. He's doing things so many great centers never flirted with and he's doing it within the context of a championship-caliber Philadelphia side.
A lot to process.