When Joel Embiid finished second in MVP voting last season, averaging 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds, many thought they were receiving the best performance of his career. Up to that point, it was the best season of his career. The only thing holding him back was staying healthy as he missed 31 games last season.
However, Embiid has taken more strides and improved in many different aspects of his game on the court thus far in the 2021-22 season. While his scoring numbers on the surface are lower than they were last season – brought about by a slow start (for Embiid's standards) and a lengthy stint in the NBA's health and safety protocols – he has heated up and is once again putting up MVP numbers. He won the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award in December, averaging 29.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
The 2021-22 season has at times been rough for the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons is holding out and demanding a trade. COVID-19 has run through the locker room, causing nearly everyone on the roster to miss some amount of time. The team has needed every ounce of production they received from Embiid to be where they are at, fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 21-16.
After Monday's win over the Houston Rockets, Embiid spoke about his desire to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
"I want to win," said Embiid. "Even based on the circumstances, I think we still have a chance we can beat anybody on any given night so I just want to do whatever is necessary every single night. Whether it’s to be the best offensive player, scorer, playmaker, best defensive player just protecting the rim."
Embiid was already a special player, but he has put in the work and continues to add things to his game. One of the biggest weaknesses to his game heading into this season was his failure to lead the 76ers in the clutch moments late in games. This season, Embiid has became the most clutch scorer in all of basketball. NBA.com defines clutch scoring as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five points or less. Embiid leads the NBA in clutch scoring with 5.8 points per game, a full point per game better than the next player.
Transition offense has also been something Embiid improved at this season. He is shooting a career-high 60 percent on field goals in transition, and he often makes scoring in transition look way too easy.
split the defense like it was nothing.🎯 pic.twitter.com/YxeASfNfxd
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 6, 2022
He continues to expand his options as a scorer, now effectively adding scoring in transition as one of the many ways he can attack the defense.
Embiid has also made some improvements as a passer, something which is critical considering the amount of double teams he faces on a daily basis. He is averaging a career-high 4.2 assists per game while also turning the ball over at a career-low rate, 2.8 per game. With the 76ers lacking a true point guard this season, Embiid has shown at times he can handle the ball in transition to either score or set up a teammate.
However, the biggest area affected by his improved passing has been his ability to handle the double team. This was an area he once struggled mightily in, but he has put in the work both as a passer and mentally to be able to understand both where the double team is coming from and where the ball needs to go.
Tobias ultimately missed this dunk, but just a great read and pass from Joel Embiid out of the double team. pic.twitter.com/AXLeU8sLCN
— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) October 21, 2021
The 76ers will need Embiid to continue to dominate like he has over the past month or so. Over the team's current five-game winning streak, Embiid is averaging a ridiculous 33.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 59.2 percent from the field. He also just tallied his third career triple-double in Monday's win over the Rockets. If he continues to add to his game and play the way he has, he will certainly cement his spot in the MVP conversation.