Philadelphia 76ers: ESPN trolls Joel Embiid in their NBArank top-100 list

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Joel Embiid is the best pure center in the NBA.

He’s a beast on the boards, a cleaner on the glass, and a threat to put up points any time he touches the ball, either in the paint, from beyond the arc, or from the free-throw line.

Do you want a mistake eraser under the basket? Embiid’s your guy. How about a switchable defenseman who can hold even a guard like Trae Young scoreless on a single one-on-one play? Embiid can do that too and did so during the Philadelphia 76ers‘ Second Round showdown versus the Atlanta Hawks. Heck, Embiid is even one of the rare players who can succeed as both a pick-and-roll ball-handler and as the screen setter.

Are there players who are slightly better at one specific aspect of the game than Embiid? Sure. Karl-Anthony Towns is a better 3 point shooter, Bam Adebayo can legitimately defend any player on the court one-five, and Rudy Gobert has a few DPOTY awards that signify that he’s a pretty darn good paint defender, but can any of those players outperform Embiid in a full NBA game? Maybe once in a while, but he’ll surely win out more often than not.

Sidebar: Between you and me, I wholeheartedly believe Joel Embiid could shut down any individual player in the NBA defensively on one play with the game on the line; he’s just that good when he puts his entire heart into it.

However, there is one other center in the NBA who, because of his otherworldly ability to facilitate an offense and dish like a passer, often overshadows Embiid in the eyes of savvy basketball hipsters and fantasy GMs alike by the name of Nikola Jokic; ever heard of him?

So naturally, when ESPN got around to filling out their annual NBArank list of 2021, they had to throw a little bit of shade at the crown jewel of “The Process” and rank him number seven, one spot behind the pride of Sombor, Serbia, if for no other reason than to recreate the bummer that was the 2021 MVP race.

Embiid just does more for the Philadelphia 76ers than Jokic does for Denver.

Statistically speaking, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are remarkably similar.

The duo averaged roughly the same points, the same rebounds, the same steals, the same blocks, and even the same number of turnovers, while playing a comparable number of minutes of action each night. Both made 50-plus percentage of their shots from the field, hit above the NBA average mark from beyond the arc at 37.7 and 38.8 percent respectively on comparable attempts per game, and made roughly 86 percent of their free throws on any given night.

The biggest difference? Jokic racked up 8.3 assists per game, while Embiid was lucky to surpass the 2.8 mark.

Now granted, Embiid did attempt twice as many free throws per game than Jokic and actually ranked first overall in the league by a two free throw margin over the next-best guy, but I guess that doesn’t really matter in the eyes of MVP voters. No, despite being the best scorer in the NBA from the five spot, it was Embiid’s 51 games of action that ultimately cost him the most prestigious award in the NBA, even if some will quibble with this claim.

But here’s the thing about looking at Embiid’s stats versus those of Jokic – there aren’t many good surface-level stats to compare defensive contributions of any given player.

No, to compare the defensive efforts of two different players, one needs to dig a little deeper and find statistical signifiers that may not be as easily definable as some may think. Fortunately, almost all of these defensive stats signify just how much better Embiid is on defense than his Western Conference counterpart.

Defensive win share? Embiid ranked 12th, and Jokic ranked 129th.

How about opposing points in the paint? Well, Embiid ranked 433rd and Jokic ranked 485th out of 540 eligible players.

Sidebar II: That may seem bad for both players, but when you consider both are high-minute primary paint defenders, it goes along with the territory.

Defensive RAPTOR? Embiid ranked 6th, and Jokic ranked 91st.

Even Defensive Plus-Minus, maybe the most misunderstood stat in the NBA, gives the Philadelphia 76ers center the nod, with “The Process” ranking 17th league-wide regardless of position, where as Jokic falls at 43, which is still a positive grade good but not elite.

Next. Please don’t trade for Andrew Wiggins. dark

Now I’m not here to minimize Nikola Jokic in any way. He’s a fantastic NBA player and one of the most idiosyncratic elite big men the Association has ever seen. I just think Joel Embiid is a better overall player and the Philadelphia 76ers superstar center deserves a little more love for his all-around game. Until then, he may be number seven on the ESPN NBArank list, but he’ll forever be number 1 to fans in the City of Brotherly Love.