We live in an age where everywhere we look there's something or someone be marketed to us. Go to Instagram and you'll find either an inexplicably attractive influencer in a bikini in Barbados, or a pair of Off-White Vapormaxes that are so far out of your price range that you look down at your crusty ass Air Force 1s and shed a tear. You know that old saying, You always want what you can’t have, right? Well it seems that that suffering, never fully satisfied feeling applies to a lot more aspects of life than just the modern human experience. Its role in basketball is evident in the three-way relationship between Joel Embiid, Philadelphia fans, and basketball lovers around the world.
Everybody is somewhat familiar with wanting what they can't have. What they want may be a new house, an electric car, a funnier set of friends, a more supportive family, or whatever aspect of life that one is accustomed to wanting to "upgrade." And it's only natural for someone to become especially annoyed with wanting what they can’t have when they know that they can have it, but they simply don't.
(We see, hear and feel it from Philly fans yearning for Ben Simmons, one of the world’s most well-rounded hoopers, to improve his jump shot. And not only for him to make progress with the jumper, but to actually start utilizing it once he’s acquired the skill set.)
For instance, Shaquille O’Neal has been ridiculing Joel Embiid all season long for playing “soft” and positioning himself too far away from the basket on offense. Shaq wants to see JoJo bang down low against smaller bodies the same way that he himself did during his career.
And you know what? SHAQ’S RIGHT! Embiid is clearly at his most effective when he’s anywhere 10 feet from the hoop with his back to the basket. He’s not just effective down there, he is flat out dominant. Embiid is on par with the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, when it comes to shooting around the rim.
I could tell you about how he's shooting 72% within 3 feet of the basket in comparison to Giannis's 76.6%, and is actually better than Giannis from 3-10 feet (Embiid: 48% versus Giannis: 33.5%). And I could also tell you about how Embiid may not be punishing defenders at the rim at the same rate that Giannis is, but his touch from further away has proven to be far more reliable and devastating to defenses.
But what I really feel I need to tell you about is that the biggest difference in numbers between these two international phenomenons is that Giannis has 147 dunks in 39 games, whereas Embiid only has 33 dunks in 39 games. That's right, Embiid has less dunks this season than he does games played. This lack of momentum swinging yams could be blamed on Brett Brown for not have installed an offense with a discernible identity, but at the end of the day it comes down to Embiid. When he decides he wants to dominate down low, he dominates down low.
The Cameroonian Clown put up 26 points and 9 rebounds on 8-17 from the field in only 28 minutes on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, and that was merely a sample size of how important the big man can be in pivotal, playoff-atmospheric games. He absolutely bullied Montrezl Harrel, Ivica Zubac, and whatever smaller wing tried to prevent him from scoring down low (including fake tough guy Marcus Morris, whom JoJo got into a scrap with underneath the basket towards the end of the game).
Basketball purists, advocates, and Philadelphia fans boo Joel Embiid and become frustrated with him because we know how game-changing and transcendent he can be. He has 90% of Shaq’s size, 80% of Dirk’s touch, and 99% of Westbrook’s passion. In our minds, he’s supposed to be this good night in and night out, and he’s only capable of achieving this level of greatness when he’s bulldozing smaller defenders down low.
Think of it this way, Joel's post game is the prime rib entree, and his ability to knock down jumpers from the perimeter is the garlic mashed potatoes on the side. When he falls in love with the unhealthy starch, that’s when we go crazy about his potential, lack of willpower and basketball IQ. Why would he load up on the cheaper unhealthy carbs when he can be the best steak-eater in the world?
We don’t boo him because we hate him, we criticize him because we love him and only want what’s best for his game. And it’s completely maddening when he goes away from what has been proven to work, especially because we know that we can have what we want. But our own fate in this relationship isn't in our hands, it's in his monster set of paws, and if there's one thing we know about Embiid it's that he's going to do whatever the hell he wants with it.