January 24, 2019
While anonymous people on the internet continue to debate whether The Process will actually produce results, the face of Philadelphia's rebuilding period continues to pile up accolades. For the second straight season, Joel Embiid will start in the NBA All-Star Game, having been voted in by a combination of fans, media, and his peers around the league.
Embiid will be joined by Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kemba Walker out of the East, while LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Steph Curry are the five starters out of the West. Antetokounmpo and James will be the captains for the game.
To state the obvious, this is a deserved honor for a guy who has put to rest nearly every concern about his game over three seasons in the league. Early in his career, people questioned whether Embiid could produce at the same level if he was playing big minutes and not sitting out as many games as he did his rookie year. Now, we're seeing him flat-out dominate games on both ends of the floor, and playing through bumps and bruises to do so.
The numbers, obviously, speak for themselves. Embiid is currently averaging 27.2 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and two blocks per game. He has one peer in the league also doing that currently (Anthony Davis), but those thresholds are otherwise rare territory, occupied only by Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the shot-clock era. Beyond that, he has transformed into the team's leader, setting an example with his work behind-the-scenes and his commitment to both ends of the floor.
"His leadership and his sort of growth recognizing the responsibility he has with this city, with this program, and professional disposition, professional approach to practice and shootaround and film session, has been the best it has ever been for me in 2019," Brett Brown said following Philadelphia's win over Houston this past Monday.
Good on the respective voting factions for getting that right.
Sixers fans will undoubtedly notice Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler are missing from the lineup, with Simmons' absence worth scrutinizing. Productive as he has been in Philadelphia, Simmons still remains a bit of a polarizing figure in his own town, let alone nationally. But he is one of the league's best two-way talents and has driven winning from the moment he stepped onto an NBA floor, and that should be the focus.
Last season, Simmons was shown a flippant attitude during reserve voting because Philadelphia's record still hadn't caught up to their talent. This season, the Sixers have been among the league's winningest teams for the majority of the season, and Simmons has carried a huge two-way burden for this group. I think he's an easy All-Star selection, and in the current East/West setup had a strong case to be a starter.
Butler, on the other hand, seems like a doubt for the midseason game. In terms of production and contributions to winning, Butler has done plenty during his time in Philadelphia. Reserves for the All-Star game are voted on by the coaches around the league — though none can vote for their own players — and that is where Butler's reputation as a problematic presence in the locker room may hurt him.
No matter how seriously you personally take the reported dust-up Butler got into during a Philadelphia film session in December, the fact remains that there are now whispers about his behavior/demeanor at all three of his professional stops. Members of the media have left him off of their ballots and admitted to doing so because of everything that has happened away from the hardwood.
We'll have to wait and see how the coaches collectively feel about Philadelphia's other two candidates. For now, Embiid is in, and will once again take his rightful place alongside the best the sport has to offer.
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