One of the biggest thrills anyone enamored with the NBA can experience is watching young players figure it out in the moment. When all the talk of potential, the future, the process gets thrown out the window, and we obtain front-row seats as inexperienced young men reach the next stage of their development in-game.
Devin Booker’s 70-point outing against the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving’s 57-point night versus the San Antonio Spurs and Anthony Davis‘ 59-point thrashing of the Detroit Pistons all serve as primary examples of the best coming-of-age showings in recent NBA history.
Well, we can now add another one to our list: Joel Embiid’s 46-point game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Of course, it wasn’t just the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers big man went off for 40-plus points. For good measure, he also added 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks to the stat sheet, while merely turning the ball over two times.
Oh, and on top of all that, we should also note his 46 points came on merely 20 shots.
It was a stat line that had literally never existed before Embiid’s insane showing. Even if we lower the bar and search for players who have scored 45 points in a game while blocking 5 shots and dishing out 5 assists, the only returns we get are Alvan Adams (a severely underrated big man in Phoenix Suns history) and Larry Bird.
It was an utterly awe-inspiring performance in the truest sense of the overused cliche.
The seven-foot do-everything center didn’t just overpower his undersized foes in the paint. (Though he did do plenty of that.)
He also displayed horrifying feats of destructive dexterity multiple times throughout the night.
Not only should players of Embiid’s massive stature not be physically able to perform moves of agile cheekiness like this…
…but there should be rules in place forbidding them from doing so. It’s simply not fair to the opposition.
For those who have watched the Sixers all year, Embiid’s eruption may have been a little less surprising.
According to Synergy Sports, so far this season, the Kansas product has feasted on the offensive glass (1.44 points per possession, or PPP), has destroyed opponents in the post when the defense commits (1.29 PPP – the best rate among players with at least 20 such opportunities) and he has been the league’s top off-ball cutter to boot (with an absurd 1.81 PPP).
As far as indicators of future success go, we can point to Embiid’s prowess at getting to the charity stripe; he’s 10th in nightly free throws attempted, getting to the line more frequently than the likes of rim-attacking beasts such as Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James.
And not only does he force you to foul him with his overpowering presence, but he also sinks his freebies at a healthy 76.4 percent rate.
Apart from his turnover problems, it’s tough to surmise how exactly Embiid will be slowed down anytime soon.
He’s got elements of Hakeem Olajuwon’s game, but with the added benefit of living in the three-ball era, where even centers have the responsibility of pulling up from deep. To his credit, though he’s off to a slow start this year, Embiid has connected on 33.8 percent of his 136 career three-point attempts.
What’s more, his dominance extends itself onto the less glamorous side of the ball, as Philadelphia allows just 99.2 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the floor. If extrapolated for the year, that mark would be the NBA’s third-stingiest behind just the sturdy Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Bringing it back to a micro level, the future All-Star big had the NBA world abuzz after his impressive one-off display.
Now, if – health permitting – Embiid maintains this astronomical trajectory, eventually racking up multiple MVP and Larry O’Brien trophies, we will collectively be able to point to the night we realized it would all be possible, on a quaint November evening in Los Angeles.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.