In a Jan. 20 ESPN article, Zach Lowe praised Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid for his play this season and hailed him for being one of the smartest players in the league by using his physique.
“Embiid’s amazing height and silky touch have always overshadowed him as being one of the smartest players in the league, with an elite feel for the game. Brain and muscle strength reinforce each other. Embiid knows how imposing he is,” said Lowe.
Lowe then spoke about how much better Embiid has become as a rim protector over the course of the season.
“After a slow start on defense, Embiid was sensational – a one-man forcefield. Enemy shots to the rim will crash when Embiid is playing.”
Lowe then listed Embiid’s MVP candidacy as one of the reasons why the Sixers should be considered a title contender.
“Embiid is an MVP candidate. Harden plays at All-Star level. The Sixers have all the hallmarks of a competitor,” Lowe said. “All that’s left is to stay sane and have their best players show up in the biggest games. Sputter again and the future is uncertain.”
The only team in the Eastern Conference with a better record than the Sixers is the Boston Celtics, four and a half games ahead.
In his most recent MVP ladder on Jan. 20, Michael C. Wright ranked Embiid third among MVP nominees, behind only Nikola Jokic and Jayson Tatum.
“The steady rise continues. Embiid missed three straight games Jan. 4-8 but came back with a vengeance, averaging 34.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg and 1.8 bpg in the six games since,” Wright said. “The Sixers have won four straight games on their current five-game West road trip and won eight of their first ten games in January to join the Bucks in second place in the East. “I think we’re good and I think we can be really, really good,” said Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers. A lot of this depends on Embiid’s continued production at both ends of the stage, as the big man and James Harden appear to be on the right track.”
Since the Sixers wrote this, the Sixers have surpassed the Bucks overall after defeating the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 21. For the past two seasons, Embiid has come second in MVP voting, with Jokic beating him for the honors in 2021 and 2022.
Speaking to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard, NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon criticized Embiid, saying Embiid calms down when he shoots three-pointers.
“He has all the moves, but to use the movements are different. Why would he shoot threes?” asked Olajuwon Ballard. “He has the advantage every night, and when I have the advantage, I will wear you out.”
“But three? “That clears it up! When I’m tired, I sit down. You don’t settle for trying to win. You don’t start the game with the reckoning!”
Embiid indirectly responded to Olajuwon while speaking to reporters and discussing how the game is different now compared to Olajuwon’s era.
“It’s funny when these old guys are always talking about checking in, ‘you gotta spend time in paint’ and all that stuff,” Embiid per said Reich Hofmann von the athlete. “You can’t win like that anymore. It’s not the damn 90’s or 80’s like it used to be. So you can’t have a basketball IQ.”