76ers’ Joel Embiid earns NBA scoring title, becomes first center to accomplish feat since Shaquille O’Neal
For most players, 41 points on 14-of-17 shooting is career night. For Joel Embiid this season is just another day at the office. The Philadelphia 76ers center topped the Indiana Pacers on Saturday to give his team their 50th win of the season, and in doing so, put the icing on the cake of their remarkable season. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James absent for their season finales on Sunday, Embiid has, except for something historic, clinched the scoring title at 30.6 points per game.
James and Embiid had been neck and neck for a few weeks, but James missing the end of the Lakers season means he will only have played 56 games in total. A player must have played 58 to maintain his eligibility as a scorer. Antetokounmpo would have needed 47 points to catch even a scoreless Embiid on Sunday, and much more had Embiid played and racked up his usual tally. Embiid is the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the scoring title, and only the fourth since 1976 to do so.
Beyond the goalscoring title, Embiid made another piece of offensive history on Saturday. Even if he plays and remains scoreless on Sunday, he will finish the season averaging over 30 points. This makes him the first center in 40 years to average 30 points per game in a season. Stars like David Robinson (29.8 in 1994), Shaquille O’Neal (29.7 in 2000) and Patrick Ewing (28.6 in 1990) have all come close, but none have reached the threshold since Moses Malone in 1982.
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Malone is an apt comparison for Embiid. He won three MVP awards during his Hall of Fame career. Embiid is trying to earn his first and has publicly lobbied for the honor. Malone won a championship with the 76ers. Embiid is trying to lead Philadelphia to its first NBA title since.
He still has a long way to go on that front. The 76ers are currently slated for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, not an ideal starting point for a championship run. If they face the Toronto Raptors in the first round, they will be without unvaccinated winger Matisse Thybulle in their road games. James Harden has struggled lately, and the trade for him has robbed the 76ers of key depth.
But their constant throughout it all has been Embiid. He kept the team afloat before Harden arrived. He drove them even after. He’s having one of the greatest offensive seasons a big man has ever had in NBA history, and now that season is going to be forever remembered in the history books.