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Joel Embiid Says He Can ‘Do Anything’ on the Court. Let Him Show You.


Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers took a half-beat to assess the situation during a late-season game against the Boston Celtics. As is often the case, he sensed an advantage.

Embiid, a 7-foot, 280-pound center, cradled the ball near the top of the key as he faced up against the Celtics’ Grant Williams, a 6-6 forward who crouched into a defensive stance as he waved his left hand in Embiid’s face. It might as well have been an act of surrender.

Embiid had a lot of extraordinary feats during the regular season to position himself as a favorite to win his first N.B.A. Most Valuable Player Award. In addition to leading the league in scoring for a second consecutive season, with a career-high 33.1 points per game, he averaged 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks.

But there was one thing he did more often than anything else, an underrated skill for him that destabilized opposing defenses and helped lift the 76ers to the third-best record in the N.B.A.: He took 5,526 dribbles.

During that possession against the Celtics, Embiid needed just two of them — a pair of hard dribbles to his right as his teammates cleared out to the 3-point line, dragging their defenders with them. Embiid pulled up in the paint, then created space against Williams with a double pivot before he sank a short fadeaway jumper over him.

“How are you going to stop that?” Ian Eagle, TNT’s play-by-play voice, said during the television broadcast.

The short answer for the Celtics was that they weren’t. Embiid finished with 52 points in a narrow win.

Not so long ago, N.B.A. centers made their lunch-pail livings by camping out near the hoop. A between-the-legs dribble out near the 3-point line would have probably landed them on the bench.

But the game has changed, of course, and the plodding big man is a relic. The modern N.B.A. is teeming with huge players who can launch 3-pointers, run sets from the high post and, in some cases, stretch defenses by dribbling like their Lilliputian teammates.

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