The Substance Report is an official rankings that I thought was necessary to come up with to determine which players throughout the league are most valuable to their team. Each day, for the next 16 days, there will be an article dedicated to a single player that demonstrates both his value to the league, but more importantly, the weight on his shoulders on his own team.
An example of the rhetorical questions to ask yourself throughout the readings of the ranking is something along the lines of, "What would the Warriors look like without Stephen Curry? How much worse off would they be as a team? Could they still win an NBA Championship if they just released him to the depths of a fiery hell? Would Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson's efficiency go up because they would have more shot opportunities with Steph out of the rotation?" and other important meditations similar to that nature.
This is what the rankings look like so far.
30. Lou "Two Girls and They Get Along Like I'm Lou Will" Williams
29. Domantas "Arvydas's Son" Sabonis
28. Montrezl "Holy Shit That Guy Tries Hard" Harrell
27. Mike "Never Leaving Memphis Because Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M.!" Conley
26. Klay "Not Just Steph's Sidekick" Thompson
25. Trae "Ugliest Player in the League" Young
24. Ben "Kendall Jenner's Bae/Fresh Prince" Simmons
23. Nikola "Diet Jokic" Vucevic
22. Karl-Anthony "Who Was the Last Good Player With Two First Names?" Towns
21. Blake "Pray My Knees Will Be Okay Come April" Griffin
20. Devin "Should I Just Become a Point Guard?" Booker
19. Anthony "'I'll Tell On You To Rich Paul!'/AD" Davis
18. Russell "I Didn't Know a Professional Could Take Their Job Too Seriously/Why Not?" Westbrook
17. Joel "The Cameroonian Clown / THE PROCESS" Embiid
The only thing Joel Embiid and I have in common is our shared affinity for the should-be-officially-named Queen of the Universe, Rihanna. Joel Embiid has a lot more things in common with the league's most historically dominant center, Shaquille O'Neal, than he does with a 21 year old guy named Ralph.
Embiid is listed at 7'0", 250 pounds, but he looks more like he's 7'4", 290. There's no way to put it other than he is simply unstoppable when he has the ball on the block. Few defenders have ever existed that would legitimately enjoy the task of standing between him and the basket.
There haven't been any players since Shaq that you can say the same thing about. Until JoJo strutted into our lives as basketball fans, there wasn't a concrete center in the league that you could point to and say, "Holy shit. No way a guy that big moves that fast." The best part about Embiid isn't his shockingly terrific athleticism, balance, agility, and intelligence, it's his competitive spirit.
@JoelEmbiid tweets and posts on Instagram like he's the best, most untouchable and intimidating basketball player in the world. Real-Life Joel Embiid backs up his constant trash talking with a tenacious fire that lives within him. I can't think of any other player other than maybe Westbrook that visibly exhibits more passion and intensity on the floor than Big Jo. That's the defining reason that both his teammates, and the entire city of Philadephia absolutely adore him. No sight in the NBA is more prophetic and inspiring than the giant unicorn spread his arms like he's Russel Crowe in Gladiator egging on his own fans in the stands and haters on the sideline.
Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when I was drawing comparisons to Joel Embiid and Shaq? Does that still seem ridiculous to you? Well, let me show you some numbers that suggest I may not be as crazy as I seem.
Joel Embiid's best season (2018-19): 27.3 PPG, 13.7 PPG, 3.4 APG, 48.3 FG%, 29.6% 3PT, 81.2% FT, 0.7 Steals, 2 blocks
Shaquille O'Neal's best season (1999-2000): 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 57.4% FG, 0% 3PT, 52.4% FT, 0.5 steals, 3 blocks
(I decided that was Shaq's most dominant season strictly because that's his best season in terms of points per game, but there are many other seasons that you could argue as Shaq's peak.)
Sure, Joel may average two fewer points, nearly 9 percent less than Shaq from the field, and a whole block less than him as well, BUT, it's fucking Shaq dude. The man was a mammoth on the court, nobody had ever seen anything like him before and didn't know how to counter him. One can argue though that you could say the same thing about Embiid.
The reason for these disparities in statistics are due to Embiid having ten times the range of Shaq. The big man can stretch the defense out 25 feet, and force it to collapse in on him just as easily. No defense wants to see Embiid get hot, cocky, and in a dangerous rhythm. Shaq was always in a rhythm, you couldn't take him out of any rhythm because he brought it directly to you. And your rhythm isn't going to be able to equal half of the groovy DJ Shaq's.
For as dominant as O'Neal was in the paint, he didn't have quite the catalog of moves that Embiid does. JoJo can shimmy one way and fade the other. He can hit a hook shot over the shoulder with either hand. He is face up game allows him to do so many different moves: simply just put his head down, jab step one way and go the other, pop a quick jumper over the top of the defender's fingertips, or put up a quick one handed floater. Shaq wasn't famous for the arsenal of moves he had. He was famous for the devastation each of his moves brought, both the spin move towards the baseline and his drop step.
Embiid is famous for a lot of different reasons: his child-like wonderment through his personality, his road to NBA superstardom through the firing of Sam Hinkie, several injuries, and a few years detached from being a certified "rookie", and the unbelievable skillset that he possesses for being a 7 footer that's only played basketball for maybe a decade.
Players like JoJo only come around once in a lifetime, so let us appreciate him for as long as he can, and name him the King of the Universe alongside his Queen, @badgalriri.