Ace Joel Embid packed for his move to America at age 16, a lovingly worn tape of Hakeem Olajuwon highlights stood out as a must-have item in his suitcase.
Embiid, who was gifted the highlight reel by a coach in his native Cameroon, recalled in a “Players Tribune” editorial that he would spend hours nearly every day studying the Hall of Famer’s post moves and working to base his game on the Rockets legend.
Olajuwon’s influence has proven unmistakable during Embiid’s ascent to MVP-caliber stardom, with Nick Wright arguing that the 76ers star is the most-skilled big man in the NBA since ‘The Dream’ himself.
“With respect to the soon-to-be two-time MVP [Nikola Jokic]Embiid is the most-skilled big man since Hakeem,” Wright said Thursday on “First Things First.” “As far as his footwork, his ability on both ends, and an amazingly flowery shooting touch, his skill is off the charts. “
Olajuwon is widely recognized as the greatest African-born player in NBA history. After being selected first overall in the 1984 NBA Draft, Olajuwon proceeded to claim the 1994 MVP award, win back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, collect 12 All-Star appearances and average 21.8 points per game across 18 seasons.
Famous for patenting the ‘Dream Shake,’ Olajuwon built a reputation as a crafty scorer around the rim and one of the most imposing defensive figures of all time, still holding the NBA career record for blocks (3,830).
Embiid has taken the elite footwork and scoring touch from his fellow West African denizen and adapted it to suit the modern NBA. Embiid averaged 30.6 points this season, the most by a center since Moses Malone 40 years ago, lighting up the scoring chart with drives from the perimeter and stellar 3-point shooting, mixed in with a strong post presence.
This Hakeem-esque footwork and extended range were on full display Wednesday night, as Embiid nailed a turnaround 3 from the left wing to secure Philadelphia’s Game 3 victory over Toronto, a moment Wright believes could be a catalyst for future playoff success.
“I think that Embiid finally having a signature playoff moment might unlock a little bit for him,” Wright said. “Embiid doing it on both ends, showing us what an MVP is supposed to look like in the playoffs. I think this is a seminal moment in Embiid’s career.”
Embiid’s performance on Wednesday, which included a game-high 33 points, made co-host Chris Broussard recant his criticisms of Embiid’s performance in the clutch. However, Broussard did wish that Embiid would stay a bit more faithful to his idol’s teachings and focus on operating on the low block.
“I’m saying, go down there [into the post] more than you do,” Broussard said. “You can get them in foul trouble. [Embiid] is the biggest player on the court by far, why isn’t he used there more? He’s floating around the 3-point line late in the game.”
Broussard’s analysis rang the loudest on Philly’s final possession of regulation, when Embiid went into isolation near the top of the key and ultimately hoisted a contested 3 that had little chance of going in.
But with the Sixers having a chance to complete the series sweep with a win in Toronto on Saturday, the 3 that did go in is all that fans will remember.
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