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Monday April 15th

OPINION: Joel Embiid’s historic scoring is not a sign of change for the 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers’ center Joel Embiid is in the midst of one of the greatest individual scoring seasons of all time (Photo courtesy of Paul Browse / Flickr).
Philadelphia 76ers’ center Joel Embiid is in the midst of one of the greatest individual scoring seasons of all time (Photo courtesy of Paul Browse / Flickr).

By Eddie Young
Sports Editor

On Jan. 22, Joel Embiid continued his spectacular regular season thus far with a 70-point performance in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. The Philadelphia 76ers’ center became the ninth player ever to score 70 points in a game, and the third to do it since the start of 2023. 

The 70-point, 18-rebound stat line from Jan. 22 helps to build Embiid’s already strong Most Valuable Player case for this season. He is currently leading the NBA in points per game for what would be the third season in a row, and he has scored more than 30 points in his last 22 games. 

As of Jan. 26, he is averaging 36 points per game, and if he can hold that pace for the rest of the season, he would join James Harden, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as the only players to average more than 35 points per game in a season since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. What Embiid is doing as a scorer this season is historically great and rarely seen.

However, while Sixers fans may be enjoying the chance to watch Embiid terrorize the league with his scoring, history has shown that it does not necessarily translate to success in the playoffs — success which has eluded the Sixers for much of this century. Only five players in NBA history have won the scoring title and the NBA finals in the same season, and only two have done it since the NBA-ABA merger. Jordan completed the feat in all six of his championship campaigns, and Shaquille O’Neal did it in the 1999-2000 season. Since then, no scoring champion has been an NBA champion in the same season.

A lot of great players have won scoring titles and championships. LeBron James led the league in scoring in 2008 and has won four titles, but that scoring title came before any of his NBA titles. Stephen Curry also has four titles and has led the league in scoring twice, but in those two years, he lost in the finals and lost in the play-in tournament. Curry is one of two players, with Allen Iverson being the other in 2001, to win a scoring title and make the finals in the same season since O’Neal did it. Many of those other scoring champions lost in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Often, when a player leads the league in scoring, it is not always a testament to how great they are. Many times, it is a sign that a really good player is on a team that is not so good and is relied on more to carry the offense. When Harden scored 36.1 per game in 2019, the team came in fourth in their conference and was a second-round exit. The team had no other great scorers, as Harden scored more per game than the next two players on his team combined. When Bryant scored 35.4 per game in 2005-2006, his team was seventh in their conference and was a first-round exit. As the focal point of the offense, he took 27.2 shots per game, which is the second most in a season since the merger. He was only second to Michael Jordan in 1986-1987, when he averaged 37 per game and snuck his team into the playoffs as an eight seed, but ended up getting swept in the first round. Every time someone has put up the scoring numbers that Embiid is putting up this season, they end up as an early-round playoff exit. 

With Embiid as the Sixers’ offensive focal point, the team has never gone that far in the playoffs. Since he rose to stardom in the 2017-2018 season, Philadelphia has made the playoffs every year, but they have never gotten past the second round. They have surrounded Embiid with many different stars, with Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and James Harden being the most notable names, and have also given him three different head coaches to work with. However, no matter what configuration of people the 76ers put together, a second-round exit always seems inevitable for them.

Many Sixers fans have claimed that this might be their year, though, and things may be different. They were able to get rid of Harden, who showed little interest in playing for the team, they hired a championship-winning head coach in Nick Nurse and they have an emerging young superstar in Tyrese Maxey, who is averaging 25 points per game of his own this year. On top of all of that, Embiid is having one of the greatest scoring seasons of all time and is looking to win his third straight scoring title and back-to-back MVPs. Everything is looking up for the Sixers.

However, as history shows, it does not look like anything should change for the 76ers. It is rare for a leading scorer to win an NBA championship, and the more points a player scores in a season, the earlier their loss in the playoffs will be. While many scoring leaders do not have a teammate who can score like Maxey, Embiid’s offense is likely to mask flaws in the rest of the team during the regular season. Come playoff time, those flaws will be exposed, leading to another second-round exit for the Philadelphia 76ers.


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