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Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid has dug himself quite the hole the last year or so. And as a Celtics fan, it’s very amusing.

Remember when Shaq and Charles Barkley got on Embiid’s case for not trying enough? It was earlier this month, on December 10th, after Embiid put up 22 points and 10 rebounds. It was a below average performance for Embiid, but not terrible. Shaq and Barkley were very disappointed, however.

“He’s the toughest player in the league to match up with,” Barkley said of Embiid on TNT, “but we don’t talk about him the way we talk about Luka, Giannis, Anthony Davis, James. We don’t ever say that about him. It’s frustrating for me, because I picked the Sixers to get to the finals…”

Barkley finished his thought by saying he might be wrong on the 76ers being his pick to make the 2020 NBA Finals. But then Shaquille O’Neal jumped in, for once agreeing with Barkley.

“If we’re like all these other people who do sports shows, that’s criticism. We’re not criticizing,” Shaq said. “We telling you you could be great. You ain’t playin’ hard enough.

“Twenty-two ain’t enough to get you to the next level. You wanna be great? Or you wanna be good? If you wanna be good, keep giving 22 points. You wanna be great? Give me 28. Give me 30.”

Embiid, a few nights later, dropped 38 points and collected 13 rebounds in a six point win over Boston, and said Shaq and Barkley were right in their criticism.

Many people thought that would be the turning point for Embiid, that he would finally start consistently  playing like a top 5 player. But he’s only cracked 30 points twice in the 7 games since, averaging 25 ppg and 13 rpg in those 7 games (as I am writing this, the 76ers-Magic game just ended, so that is the last game I have taken into account).

25 and 13 are slightly better than season averages, but still worse than last year. Why can’t Embiid improve game-to-game, and year-to-year?

Players like Siakam and Giannis are constantly striving to be superstars, and there are hard working young guys throughout the league. But players like Nikola Jokic seem to be fine where they are, perhaps feeling it is unnecessary to improve from a perennial all-star to a superstar.

Embiid kind of falls into the middle of those two categories. There are games where he just looks slow and out of shape, barely getting 20 and 10. Then there are games where he gets 19 boards, or 34 points and looks like one of the best players in the NBA. No one can figure it out, and maybe he can’t either.

In the age of social media, which Joel Embiid-like personas seem to be built for, we are watching basketball 24/7. So when Embiid underperforms, we look at him and ask, “Why can’t you be great? You are one of the most talented guys in the league. Why can’t you be great?”

But then when Embiid drops 38 and 13, we ask, “Why can’t you do this all the time? You are on of the most talented guys in the league. Why can’t you do this all the time?”

(Except me, of course. I’m fine if he averages 20 and 10. It means a better chance of the Boston Celtics winning).

I’m looking at his game log, thinking to myself, is he the most inconsistent guy in the NBA?

He had a 30 point game against Dallas, then followed that up with a 21 point game and a 20 point game. But then he went against the Bucks, scored 31, collected 13 boards and completely shut Giannis down. But then he had a game against the Magic and scored 24 and and got 11 rebounds, rounding it off with 4 turnovers and 5 personal fouls (if you can’t tell I am very exasperated right now).

Also, why, as a 7-foot person, are you shooting 11 threes against the Magic? Sure, Nikola Vucevic is pretty big, but why aren’t you posting up Aaron Gordon (6’8″, 235 lbs) or Khem Birch (6’9″, 233 lbs)? By the way his shot chart looks, it seems as though he posted up twice, tops.

I bet one of the best things as an NBA coach is to see him make a couple of jumpers at the beginning of each game, so he starts playing farther and farther away from the basket.

Take the game against the Denver Nuggets, the one that Shaq and Barkley railed on Embiid for. In the first half, he took 10 shots, shooting 3/6 on jumpers. The Nuggets won that game, 97-92, and half of Embiid’s shots were jumpers. That’s not exactly what Brett Brown wanted to see from his center, I am sure. Embiid only scored 22 in that game.

This year, he’s posting up 34% of the time when he has the ball, good for 7.9 possessions a game. He leads the league in score frequency when posting up, with 58% (everyone who posts up once or more per game). The only person really close to him in frequency of posting up and scoring frequency is Anthony Davis, who is averaging 5.8 post ups a game, at a score frequency of 51.8%. Pretty much, he’s the best post up player in the NBA.

Which is why I think he should have that number (7.9) a lot higher. He could post up 10 times a game, and get 14 or so points from that. In general, posting up is a inefficient way of scoring now, but with guys like Embiid and AD, it’s probably just as efficient as other options. Especially on the 76ers, who are 26th in three pointers attempted.

Embiid needs to figure out if he wants to be a superstar in the NBA, and then consistently play like one. A good way for him to accomplish that would be stop shooting jump shots and threes, and play closer to the basket. Also, take more shots. He is averaging 2.7 less shots this year than last, and averaging 4 less points than last season.

As long as Embiid stays in shape and plays smarter, he has the potential to be in the MVP conversation for years to come.

(P/C: NBC Sports –