By Mark Gallagher
Sixers All Star center Joel Embiid is on the shelf with a torn ligament in his left ring finger.
And he took some criticism a couple of weeks ago from Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley:
“I’m going to be back. And we’re going to get this thing right. And we’re going to be a problem in the playoffs, I promise you,” said Embiid in a recent post on The Players’ Tribune. “But I have to say it now — the one thing I’m not going to do is change who I am as a basketball player.
“I got nothing but love for the legends of the game like Shaq and Charles. So I respect what they’re saying about my game. But I’m never going to be the kind of traditional big like Shaq was in the ’90s.
“You can’t go down to the post every single time down the floor and have success in this league. Not in 2020. Not with the way the game has evolved. Not with the way teams double-team now. You have to be able to spread the floor and pass the ball and get buckets all over the court.”
Barkley and O’Neal see the Sixers big as a powerful physical specimen that can exploit today’s smaller, more limber players that play the center position — yet Embiid’s game isn’t based on sheer power, but also versatility — something that opens up other areas of his game, like his passing and screening.
The “Inside The NBA” analysts have often described his pedestrian 3-point shooting as a waste and a detriment to his skill set, but Embiid uses that potential threat as a way to shot-fake, drive, and create opportunities for others — things that go beyond his scoring capabilities and make him a more complete player.
The game has evolved a lot since Shaq and Chuck were lacing them up, players are more savvy and versatile, including Embiid. While they are right to criticize his effort and involvement, they should shy away from romanticizing the way he should play, as it will be quite difficult for them to relive their glory days vicariously through him.