James Harden was recently selected for his fifth All-Star Game. No surprise there considering Harden is also a candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. He made that abundantly clear following a scintillating 51-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist performance in the Houston Rockets’ 123-118 win over the 76ers Friday night.
Harden was virtually unstoppable.
Following the impressive road win, Harden was more taken with a player on the opposite bench — Joel Embiid.
“They have a lot of guys who play hard and obviously he [Embiid] is the face of the franchise,” Harden said.
Embiid returned from a three-game absence for a left knee contusion to produce 32 points — one off tying his career high — seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots. He also knocked down four 3-pointers, matching a career-best.
It was quite a show for a rookie who hadn’t played in three games. It was also a message to the league.
Remember, Embiid was snubbed as a reserve for the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
“Joel should be on the All-Star team and there’s no question about it,” said Sixers guard T.J. McConnell. “He deserves it. He’s worked for it. I don’t know exactly how it all works in terms of picking the reserves, but it’s crazy that he’s not one of them. You can’t tell me he doesn’t belong because he does.”
Embiid is the only NBA rookie this season with at least one 30-point game, and he actually has two. The last rookie with multiple 30-point games within the first 31 games of their career was Michael Carter-Williams with two in 2013-14. In addition, Embiid has posted at least 20 points in 19 games to lead all rookies. The rest of the league’s rookies have combined for 15.
All of this with a 28-minute restriction, a leg contusion and mandated rest on back-to-back nights.
“There is zero doubt he’s an NBA All-Star,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “None in my mind. He has so much more to grow into. He’s just scratching the surface.”
Embiid opened the game against the Rockets with a drive to the basket followed by a vicious left-handed slam dunk. Rust? What rust?
“I mean he comes out, you know we ran the first play to start the game, and you're not going to see a more sort of jaw-dropping play in the league really, that is jaw-dropping for a 7-foot-2 man to pull it going toward his weak hand and finish like he did,” Brown said. “I thought throughout the game you know you always see signs of brilliance. You see signs that he is young and still learning how to play NBA basketball and nuances that follow that, defensively and offensively. But in general, we all walk away again thinking he could be whatever he wants to be.”
Embiid believes that he’s worthy of being an All-Star. He tweeted how thankful he was for the support of his thousands of followers. Then he went out and supported the message of his All-Star ability when playing at less than 100 percent.
“I felt great physically, my conditioning was really bad,” Embiid said. “My knee felt great, it was a little sore, but that was expected. The doctor told me it’s a bone bruise, so it will take two to three weeks to heal. I felt great. I think I could have done more to help us win.”
That’s amazing maturity for a kid just learning the nuances of the NBA after missing two full seasons with a pair of foot surgeries.
Embiid’s name will surely be called in future All-Star Games. It should be called this season. He’s clearly one of the 12 best players in the East. It’s not a debate.
“Not a debate in my mind,” McConnell said. “You’ll never convince me otherwise. He’s an All-Star. It’s that simple.”