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July 18, 2017

Joel Embiid thinks he’s the best defender in the NBA

From yesterday, here is a pretty funny video of Joel Embiid finding out and being disappointed by his initial NBA 2K rating this year:

I don’t play much 2K — Basketball is my favorite sport, but I don’t think it translates all that well to video games unless it’s unrealistic like NBA Jam or NBA Street — but my guess is that 86 is a half-decent rating for a guy who has played 31 games in three NBA seasons. Regardless, there is something Embiid said that caught my attention.

“It’s kind of hard to rate me because I felt like last year when I was on the court, I was the best defender in the league,” Embiid said.”

And my initial thought upon hearing him say that was that I don’t think Embiid is too far off-base here.

•    For the 786 minutes that Embiid was on the court last season (and remember, that was mostly against other teams’ starting units), the Sixers gave up 99.1 points per 100 possessions according to For reference, that is a good bit better than the mark that the top defense in the league (San Antonio, 100.9 points per-100) surrendered over the entire season.

Think about that for a second. When Joel Embiid was on the floor, last year’s Sixers were a decent bit stingier than the best defense in the NBA. Last year’s Sixers!

•    Also according to, Embiid’s defensive field goal percentage (what the player that he’s guarding shot) was 44.1 percent, a full 17.8 percent lower than what his opponents would normally shoot. This number strikes me as something that can have a lot of noise, but look right below Embiid and there’s Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

•    It wasn’t like the film didn’t back up the numbers, either. Watching Embiid’s defense from January, he became a master at containing middle pick-and-rolls with his combination of size and the ability to move his feet.

Quantifying individual defense is much harder than offense. NBA teams use their own data and army of quants to try to determine the best defenders. That said, it still feels to me like the NBA does a pretty good overall job of voting for defensive awards.

If you were to ask me who I subjectively think are the best three defenders in the NBA, my answer would be Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard. Take a look at this year's first-team all-defense and they’re all there.

Embiid isn’t on the first team. Not yet, anyway. He needs to play more games to qualify for those awards, but he assuredly has that type of ability and potential impact. It was only 31 games, but like he said, they were a pretty promising 31 games.

Now it’s time to work on that durability rating.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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