As a testament to his talent, 76ers center Joel Embiid averaged 23 points and 11.6 rebounds last year, and it was considered a disappointing season.
Embiid missed 22 games, mostly because of injuries, and never seemed to get in the rhythm he displayed the previous two seasons.
Even though he was named to his third All-Star team, it wasn’t Embiid’s finest season.
After being a second-team all-NBA selection in each of the previous two years, Embiid was left off all three all-NBA teams last season, a true gut-punch.
Now as the 26-year-old Embiid begins his fifth active season and seventh overall with the team after missing his first two years with injuries, he has plenty of motivation.
Being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics was humbling, but so was not seeing his name on the all-NBA teams.
Los Angeles Lakers forward-center Anthony Davis was the first-team center. Denver’s Nikola Jokic was second-team, and Utah’s Rudy Gobert was third-team.
Embiid admitted on Friday, in his first interview since the Sixers lost Game 4 to Boston on Aug. 23, that it stung not to be on any of the all-NBA teams, and it will provide motivational fodder for this year.
“It was tough,” he said. “When you are considered top 10 ... NBA player or whatever, when you are up there and not make an all-NBA team, that just shows you a lot,” he said. “It is what it is. You can’t get mad at it, but ... I was extremely disappointed because I didn’t get the respect that I deserved.”
He did acknowledge what it will take to return to the all-NBA level.
“You’ve got to be able to win, and that’s where it starts,” he said. “If you are not going to win, you are not going to get respect. So that is all I care about, because at the end of the day, when you win, everybody else wins.”
The Sixers lacked consistent outside shooting last season, and it enabled teams to double-team Embiid down low. Now, with the acquisition of Seth Curry and Danny Green, the perimeter game should be improved, and that should provide more space for Embiid.
The goal is to have the same chemistry and create the same space as when Embiid played two seasons with JJ Redick before Redick departed after the 2018-2019 season, signing with New Orleans as a free agent.
“Someone like JJ, I new what he needed. I knew where I needed to go, and I knew how to make it better,” Embiid said. “Like I would expect the same from someone like Seth. But it is going to take time.”
As with all the Sixers, Embiid is excited about the arrival of new coach Doc Rivers.
“Coach Rivers I think is going to be great,” Embiid said. “We’ve been talking a lot, trying to figure out how I can best help as a leader.”
Embiid is also looking forward to working with backup center Dwight Howard, now in the twilight of his career but an eight-time All-Star.
“I’ve never had any Hall of Fame big men around me as a coach or as a player, so I think he’s going to great,” Embiid said.
Two years ago, the Sixers lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.
Last season, with fellow all-star Ben Simmons out, the Sixers were swept in four games in the first round by the Celtics.
“Not having Ben was tough,” Embiid said. “We had a huge [3-1] advantage in the regular season against Boston, and the guy who killed us a lot was Jayson [Tatum], and Ben did a great job on him.”
Tatum averaged 19 points in four regular-season games against the Sixers and 27 points in the four playoff games.
Speaking of Simmons, there is the perception that he and Embiid don’t have a great relationship. Embiid said that isn’t accurate.
“The notion of what people have been saying in the past, I just don’t think it’s true,” he said. “On the court two years ago, when looking at spacing, we were able to dominate together.”
To illustrate Embiid’s point, two years ago the Sixers were plus-7.8 points per 100 possessions with Embiid and Simmons on the court, according to Basketball-reference.com.
Last season, the Sixers were only plus-0.8 points per 100 possessions with the duo.
“Our relationship is good. We’ve been definitely way closer, even on the court. If we have to work out, we are working out together, playing two-on-two. You know I want him on my team,” Embiid said. “The national media is always trying to create stories because they don’t have anything to talk about. But we are fine. We know where we are and know where our goals are.”
Embiid said he feels good about this year’s team, but it must improve playing in the half court, especially since games get slowed down in the postseason.
“Last year, we at times ... didn’t know what to do,” Embiid said.
“I want to be a quality basketball player, not just a big man, a post-up player,because the game is not played this way,” he said.
More than anything, he wants to bring a championship to Philadelphia.
“I want to win so bad,” he said. “I want to reward the fans for the trust that they’ve had in this process.”