CAMDEN, N.J. — Many of us are shy about sharing our ambitions, worried we’ll look foolish if we don’t reach them. Joel Embiid is most definitely not one of those people.
When asked about his free throw shooting after Friday’s practice — he made 20 of 21 in the Sixers’ win over the Celtics on Wednesday — Embiid said he wasn’t satisfied.
“I think I should be a 90 percent free throw shooter,” he said. “Obviously I gotta work on that, spend more time and get better at it. [81.6 percent] is not good enough.”
That’s a lofty goal; Dirk Nowitzki is the only 7-footer to make at least 90 percent of his free throws in a season, per Basketball Reference. But Embiid has much, much bigger things in mind.
Obviously I want to be the best Sixer to ever play here. To do that, I gotta win championships. Obviously, I’m sure the stats are going to come with it because of the opportunity these guys give me every single night. But it’s all about winning. When you win, of course your name is going to be mentioned with the best, and I want to be the best. Not just [best] Sixers player ever, but I want to be the best to ever do it. And it’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take my teammates’ help, the coaches, the whole organization and the fans.
Embiid isn’t just casually throwing the idea out there that he wants to be the greatest of all time. He’s studied the history of the game and understands how difficult it will be to even break into that discussion. In a piece by Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck in January, Embiid said, “To me, the GOAT has always been Wilt Chamberlain.” Embiid knows it won’t be easy to overtake a man who once averaged over 50 points and over 25 rebounds in a season.
He told Beck in January, "I don't like shooting threes. I just do it because, you know, spacing. I gotta space the floor and make sure that my man never helps off of me.”
His perspective on the subject sounds like it may have shifted. A 29 percent three-point shooter this season, Embiid thinks he’s capable of being a much more efficient player from behind the arc.
“Obviously my three-point shot is still a work in progress," he said. "I’m sure I’m going to get to a point in my career where I’m shooting 40 percent. Whenever I get to that point, that’s really the last thing. Last summer was really the first time I got to work on my game. My handle got better, but there’s still so much work I still have to do … I've got a long way to go.”
Watching Embiid night after night, it’s easy to become numb to how dominant he already is. In his last two games, against two of the Eastern Conference’s elites in the Bucks and Celtics, he’s posted a combined 77 points and 39 rebounds. He’s not near Chamberlain’s status yet, but he very well may be — if he can stay healthy — on a trajectory that one day makes him a valid part of the GOAT conversation.
After being around Embiid for just six weeks, Tobias Harris is already amazed by his ability, and maybe even a little jealous.
“Joel, he’s really, really good at basketball,” Harris said. “Against Boston, he was doing some moves where I had to ask myself, ‘Can you do that move?’ And I said, ‘Probably not.’ His skill level is through the roof for somebody with his size. He’s just going to continue to get better, too. He still has a lot of things that he can grow with his game and I think that’s the scary thing about him.”
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