Joel Embiid has ascended to another level as a basketball player this season.
After a disappointing end to the 2019-20 campaign, Embiid came into this season on a mission and it's culminated into an MVP-caliber start for the 26-year-old big man.
You could point to a number of reasons why Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career. He's clearly in great shape, which hasn't been a given throughout his career. The Sixers have also re-worked their roster to surround him with more shooting, making it harder for teams to send two defenders at him without paying the consequence.
However, fellow All-Star starter and "Pure Sweat" athlete Bradley Beal identified one major difference after facing off against Embiid Friday night in D.C.
"He's utilizing his back-to-the-basket [game]," Beal said. "I feel like that's the biggest difference, like everything this year is more or less in the paint. He's not popping as much as he used to, he's rolling, he's getting a lot of post-ups, and out of those post-ups he pretty much faces up and you're at his mercy, especially for a guy with such soft touch at his size."
For most of Embiid's career to date, it often felt like he was letting defenses off the hook by taking too many jump shots. Part of that certainly had to do with the Sixers' poor roster construction and his ability to physically handle that kind of workload night after night.
Now that he's embraced his strengths to the fullest, he's become one of the most unstoppable players in the league. He has the Sixers at the top of the Eastern Conference standings and has been the consensus favorite for the MVP award over the likes of LeBron James and Nikola Jokic.
"He's a three-level scorer," Beal said. "That's something you say about guards, and he's such a massive guy, he's able to see over defenses, just plow through guys. He's having that type of year where he's realizing nobody can really guard him on that block and he's taking full advantage of it."
Unfortunately, Beal's kind words come in the backdrop of a potentially devastating night for Embiid and the Sixers. The big man hyperextended his left knee after a dunk against the Wizards and did not return to the game. Embiid will reportedly undergo an MRI to determine the severity of the injury.