The Philadelphia 76ers are currently enjoying being in the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, a position they’ve earned thanks to a a 24-12 record at the All-Star break. However, their hold on that position is tenuous at best, with a half-game lead on the suddenly loaded Brooklyn Nets and just two games up on the perennial top seeds in the conference, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Even in a pandemic season where arenas are empty or sparsely populated, homecourt is arguably more important to the Sixers as any team in the league. Philly is 16-3 at home compared to just 8-9 on the road, and so they will be desperately trying to hold onto as high of a seed as they can in the second half of the season to try and position themselves to have homecourt as deep into the playoffs as possible.
The good news in their quest to do so is that while they have two tremendous teams nipping at their heels, they are a squad flush with talent as well, and most importantly, that talent is almost all enjoying career-best seasons all at once. Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris each had terrific first halves, with Harris rejuvenated playing for Doc Rivers again and Simmons being the two-way force Philly has always known him capable of being, but on a more consistent basis. New additions Danny Green and Seth Curry have provided the Sixers with much needed spacing and scoring punch from the outside, but the biggest reason for the Sixers’ first half surge has been the MVP caliber play from Joel Embiid.
The big fella is averaging a career-high 30.2 points per game to go along with 11.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game on career best efficiency (52.1/41.6/85.6 shooting splits are all career marks). He capped off his first half campaign with an emphatic statement against two-time DPOY Rudy Gobert, dropping 40 points and 19 rebounds on the Jazz center in a comeback win in overtime, which he forced with a ridiculous late three-pointer.
For Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, who is in his first season in Philly after stepping down in Houston this offseason, he can’t help but be effusive in his praise for Embiid, even going so far as to say he’s more unstoppable than the former MVP he saw daily with the Rockets in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck.
“I get in trouble when I say stuff like this,” Morey says, “but he’s the most unstoppable thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. You know who I’ve seen,” he says, alluding to Harden. “But I’ve never seen anything like it. Like last night against Rudy Gobert, he faced him up at eight feet, and I mean it ended in a dunk. And (Gobert) is an amazing defender. And he had no answer.”
Morey’s belief in James Harden — who in his interview he would not mention to avoid getting fined — was well-established in Houston and there was a reason he chased him this season before he was dealt to the Nets. So for him to say this about Embiid is certainly quite the statement, even if there may be some recency bias mixed into his calculation. What’s more interesting is that Embiid and Harden are firmly in the frontrunner category for MVP this season, and as such we may very well get a leaguewide vote regarding which has had the better, more unstoppable season to see if scribes around the league agree or disagree with Morey’s assertion.