By: Rajan Nanavati
In the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11 (one of my favorite movies of all time), Linus Caldwell (portrayed by Matt Damon) describes the film’s main antagonist, Terry Benedict (portrayed by Andy Garcia), by saying: “This guy is as smart and he is ruthless… he doesn’t just take out your knees; the guy goes after your livelihood and the livelihood of anybody you ever met.”
What does any of this have to do with the NBA?
Every single time Joel Embiid steps out on the floor for his Philadelphia 76ers, he channels his inner Terry Benedict: he wants to ruthlessly bury his opponents, their livelihood, and probably the livelihood of anybody they ever met.
In a time when we all thought the traditional center position in the NBA was going the way of the dinosaur, Embiid has been feasting on opposing teams like a hungry — and angry — T-Rex.
There was the four straight games with at least 30 points and 11 rebounds during Philadelphia’s first week of the regular season. There was the 31 & 11, 41 & 13, and 39 & 17 he put up in a three game stretch between late October and early November. There was the lopsided win against the New York Knicks this past Wednesday evening, when Embiid had “only” 26 points and 14 rebounds, and fell three assists short of a triple-double.
In the 15 games he’s played in November, he has a double-double in 14 of them. Remember all the buckets that Jimmy Butler was going to hog up when he arrived in Philadelphia? Since the 76ers acquired Butler, Embiid has at least 31 points in seven of the ensuing nine games.
After Embiid dropped 32 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks against Brooklyn on Sunday, Nets head coach vocalized what many people have started pondering this year: “[Embiid] is having an MVP-type year.”
But it’s not just about the fact that he’s legitimately in the MVP conversation, although that’s extremely noteworthy in and of itself (especially given the way his career started out).
It’s the fact that, again, he doesn’t want to just beat his opponent; he also wants to humiliate them, and their team, in the process. After dropping 39 and 17 on Detroit in early November (including 32 points in the first half), Embiid proudly declared he owns Real Estate in the head of Pistons’ center Andre Drummond. Nine days later, after Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside scored seven early points in a game against Embiid in the 76ers, he told Embiid — in game — that he wouldn’t let Embiid embarrass him like he did to Drummond. Those were famous last words; Embiid went out and dropped 35 and 18 that night, while holding Whiteside to only six more points for the rest of the game after the latter opened his mouth. After hearing people compare DeAndre Ayton (the #1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft) to him, Embiid went out and dropped 33 and 17 on Ayton, letting the young man know that Embiid is already a grown-ass man.
And yes, the 76ers won all three of those games.
While it’s out there in the ether, Embiid is probably not going to make a serious run at the MVP award, given that he’ll be in a very tight race with guys like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Stephen Curry. But a First-Team All-NBA Center? He might all but have that wrapped up.
Embiid, along with teammate Ben Simmons, can be considered the crown jewel of “The Process” by since-departed General Manager Sam Hinkie (never forget that Hinkie died for NBA fans’ sins). And while he might not win any awards for it at the end of the year, he’s also emerged as a bona fide top-10 player in the NBA – who’s on a quest to eviscerate the remainder of the guys on that same list.