Trust the progress: Joel Embiid is even better than you thought

After two years of restrictions and injuries, including one very recent broken orbital bone and concussion, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid is, shall we say, eager for his first playoff game. Need evidence? Check out his salty Instagram from April 16 -- or consult these ridiculous numbers as he preps to return to a team that ran off eight straight wins without him to end the regular season.

Because based on the stats, Embiid might just be the NBA's scariest postseason player.


In his two seasons, Embiid racked up a higher usage percentage than any other NBA newbie ever. In fact, in 2017-18, he finished with a higher usage rate than Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing ever did in their combined 64 seasons in the NBA.

Highest usage percentage in first two seasons in NBA history

Joel Embiid, 2016-18: 34.1%

Michael Jordan, 1984-86: 30.9%


Embiid's impact can't be overstated. With Embiid on the court, the Sixers had the scoring margin of a 68-win team this season -- which would have given them the best record in the NBA. When he was on the bench, though, the Sixers played like a 34-win team, and that includes their 16-game winning streak to end the regular season. And last year, with Embiid playing, the Sixers projected to be a 52-win team. Without him, Philly was a 21-win team. Think Brett Brown wants to give him plenty of burn this postseason?


Typically, trotting out per-36 minute numbers is a dangerous game. After all, rarely do you find players who actually maintain their level of performance when given extended burn. Here's the thing, though: The more Embiid plays, the better he is. When he clocked at least 30 minutes this season, he averaged 25.7 points. In the 10 games in which Embiid logged 35 minutes, he produced all-time great numbers (28.9 PPG, 11.6 RPG). The only player in NBA history to match that level of career production at those minutes? Some guy named Wilt Chamberlain.

Just take a look at how Embiid's points, rebounds and blocks per game compare with recent Hall of Fame centers in games in which they played 35-plus minutes:


This one is pretty simple: With Embiid on the court this season, the Sixers' shot quality increased from practically every nook and cranny of the court, according to Second Spectrum's quantified shot quality metric (qSQ). Of the 11 primary shooting spots that Second Spectrum tracks, Philly gets better shots at 10 of those shooting zones with Embiid on the court. That's especially true from 3-point range, where the Sixers get better looks from all five spots with Embiid in the game.


The best time to see a fully unleashed Embiid? When he decides to take matters into his own hands, initiating offense after snagging a rebound, recovering a blocked shot or swiping a steal. The 7-footer brought the ball up about once per game in 2017-18, and on those plays, with Embiid as the point-center, the Sixers averaged an incredible 1.21 points per possession, per Second Spectrum. That's better offense than James Harden's Rockets (1.15) and Steph Curry's Warriors (1.14).

And, by the way, these aren't just clear-cut fast breaks, where you'd expect higher offensive efficiency. Two-thirds of Embiid's possessions as point-center have been in the half court. Deep down, every big guy -- at every level -- loves playing point guard every once in a while. Joel Embiid just happens to be awesome at it.


Hey, guess what? Embiid is just as dynamic on defense. Per Second Spectrum, when he was the closest defender to a play this season, he limited opposing players to an effective field goal percentage of 41 percent, best in the NBA. The Sixers vaulted from a good interior D (No. 9 in the NBA) to the league's best with Embiid on the court.

Lowest effective FG% allowed as closest defender in half court

Joel Embiid: 41.0%

Anthony Davis: 42.3%

Al Horford: 42.8%


Benches get shorter in the playoffs, and that ... bodes well for the Sixers: When their five starters shared the floor this season, the Sixers outscored teams by an absurd 21.4 points per 100 possessions, tops in the NBA, and comparable to the two most recent champs. Here's how the Sixers' production this season stacks up with the Warriors and Cavs in offensive and defensive points per 100 possessions.

2017-18 Sixers (Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, Dario Saric)

Offense: 117.1

Defense: 95.7

Net: +21.4

2016-17 Warriors (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala)

Offense: 122.4

Defense: 98.4

Net: +20.0

2015-16 Cavaliers (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson)

Offense: 115.3

Defense: 102.8

Net: +12.5