Joel Embiid is determined to be the NBA defensive player of the year.
If he already wasn’t, the 76ers center should receive strong consideration for his defensive effort against Milwaukee Bucks standout Giannis Antetokounmpo on Christmas Day.
“I mean, he wants it, too,” point guard Ben Simmons said of Tobias Harris following the Sixers’ 121-109 victory. “But I want it, and [Josh Richardson] wants it.
“So, hopefully, we’ll all keep that mentality.”
Embiid was informed of his teammates’ desire to win the award following the game. So he was asked what message could he send to voters based off Wednesday’s game that separates him from his teammates.
“I hope we all win defensive player of the year,” he said with a smile. “Obviously, there’s only one that can win."
He added, as a team, the Sixers have been a great defensive squad all season. He also pointed out that each player has his own unique defensive skill set.
“Ben is going to get in the passing lanes,” Embiid said. “He’s going to guard the best guard on the opposite team most nights."
But on this afternoon, the defensive focus was on Embiid. He and Al Horford, but mostly Embiid, drew the assignment of guarding Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP.
The Bucks’ franchise player finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists. However, he made just 8 of 27 shots and missed all seven of his three-point attempts. According to NBA.com stats, Antetokounmpo shot just 1 for 9 with Embiid directly guarding him.
He came into the game averaging 31.0 points, second in the NBA.
Simmons is the league-leader in steals at 2.2 per game. Richardson is averaging 1.1 and Embiid and Harris are at 0.9. Rookie Matisse Thybulle, who wasn’t mentioned, ranks 15th in the league with 1.4 steals . Embiid is 15th in the league in blocks at 1.4.
“If we can’t all win it," Embiid said, “I hope we are all on the first-team all-defense.”