10 reasons why scoring title winner Embiid is a unicorn


Joel Embiid rewrites history.

With every game, with every shot, with every ridiculous move you never see from a player his size, he alters another chapter in the annals of NBA lore. And as the Sixers centerpiece claimed the 2021-2022 NBA scoring title, he did so yet again.

Whether or not Embiid wins the MVP for this season, whether or not anyone feels he is most worthy of the award (he is), you can’t ignore the facts. He is a unicorn, a player with such a unique skill set that there hasn’t been another player like him in the 75-year history of the league.

In case you’re skeptical about how unparalleled his career has already been, here are 10 reasons:

Joining a couple of Sixers Hall of Famers

Embiid is the third Sixers player to win a scoring title. The other two you likely know: Wilt Chamberlain (two times), and Allen Iverson (four times). Both are in the Hall of Fame. In fact, there is only one scoring champion in the history of the league who is currently eligible but not in the Hall of Fame. That would be that Max Zaslofsky, who won the scoring title in the second NBA season for the Chicago Stags way back in 1947-48.

Not from around here

Embiid is the first NBA player not born in the United States to win a scoring title. The closest any international player had come to winning one prior to this season was Peja Stojakovic, who finished second to Tracy McGrady in 2003-04. Embiid’s career scoring average of 26.0 is the highest of any international player with at least 300 career games played.

The man in the middle

Embiid is the first center to win an NBA scoring title since Shaquille O’Neal did so for the Lakers in 1999-2000. Only six centers all-time have managed to score 30 points per game or more in a season. Embiid, Wilt Chamberlain (seven times) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (four times), Bob McAdoo (three times), Moses Malone and Walt Bellamy.

Forty and Ten

Embiid had 13 games this season with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. According to Sportradar, no player in the last 40 NBA seasons has reached that mark. The two that came closest were Russell Westbrook (12) in 2016-17, and Malone (12) in 1981-82. By the way, Westbrook won the MVP in 2017, and Malone won it in 1982.

Efficiency with a Capital E

Embiid won the scoring title averaging 33.8 minutes per game. That’s the fewest minutes per game played for a champion since the league introduced the shot clock in 1954. That’s better than the previous record holder, Stephen Curry, who won scoring titles in 2015-16 and 2020-21, both while averaging 34.2 minutes per game.

Even More Efficiency

For 31 games this season — from Dec. 16 to March 2 — Embiid averaged better than a point per minute. Think about that. It’s tied for the fourth-longest streak of its kind in the last 40 NBA seasons. The only streaks longer were James Harden in 2018-19 (71 games), Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019-20 (43), and Harden again in 2019-20 (40).

The Most Efficient. Ever.

Certainly players have scored more points per game than Embiid has this season, and more than he has averaged in his career. But no player ever can match his scoring efficiency. Embiid averages more points per minute than anyone who has played at least 300 games — ever. He averages 0.83 points per minute, or about five points for every six minutes he plays. That’s better than Michael Jordan (0.79 points per minute) George Gervin (0.78), Kevin Durant (0.74), and Harden (0.72).

Ending a 32-year drought

Embiid is the first NBA player to average at least 30 points and 11 rebounds for a season since Karl Malone did so in 1989-1990. Including Embiid, only 10 players all time have averaged 30 points and 11 boards for a season. The other nine players you can find all in one place: the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Take that, Tyronn Lue

Yes, Embiid scores a chunk of his points from the foul line line. He is unrivaled among centers in the history of the league in that regard. This season, he averaged 11.8 free throw attempts a game. Among centers, only Chamberlain (eight times) O'Neal have averaged more in a season. But Embiid shot 81.4 percent on his free throws. Chamberlain's career high for a season from the line? 61.3 percent. O'Neal? 62.2 percent.

Pasting the Pacers

Ok, this one is kinda cool in a weird way. On Saturday night, Embiid had 41 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Indiana Pacers. It was the third 40-20 game for Embiid in his career. All three games — Saturday, in December of 2018, and in August of 2020 in The Bubble — were against the same Indiana Pacers.

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