August 31, 2022
Futures betting during the offseason for a sport has to be one of the most degenerate things a person can do. Without a shred of evidence on how a team looks, feels, or may set up next season, you get to guess what's going to take place over the course of six months and 82 games. It's no wonder business is always booming in Vegas.
That being said, everybody is still mostly guessing this time of year, so why not have some fun with it and add a bit of extra juice for the season? You watch Joel Embiid and the Sixers and root for them for multiple reasons at the same time. We'll comb through some more individual and team futures lines over the next week or so.
(I am not responsible for your losses, nor am I/do I make any of these wagers, so all issues should be settled with your bookie and not me. The following lines are all up at DraftKings Sportsbook as we speak.)
I'll try to keep this respectful, as I don't want it to sound as though I think Embiid's 30-point average was an insane fluke last year. But these are essentially the cases for and against next year.
The optimist's take: Embiid's scoring average actually went up once James Harden was a fixture in the rotation, rising to 32.6 points per game after the All-Star break. With the numbers advantages Harden and Tyrese Maxey were able to create fairly consistently, Embiid got easier shots, forced teams to foul him more, and ultimately became a more dangerous and versatile scorer. A full season to work with Harden and an improved roster gives Embiid a runway to duplicate or perhaps even improve on his average from last season, which would be quite a feat.
The pessimist's take: Embiid's historic 2021-22 season had few peers because it has become more and more difficult for centers to control a game (at least on offense) in the modern NBA. It's amazing that he became the first center since Shaquille O'Neal to lead the league in scoring, and the first center to score 30-plus per game since Moses Malone accomplished the feat in 1981-82. But it's damn hard to do either of those things in any given season, and this number is essentially asking for lightning to strike the same spot twice in a row.
Philadelphia's improved roster could end up being a double-edged sword. Yes, improved spacing and better creative talent around him should afford Embiid a bit of extra space in the middle of the floor, even if it's a marginal gain. The Sixers could also improve to the point that they put away games earlier and get Embiid additional rest late in games, depressing his average if he doesn't do most/all of his damage in the early stages of games.
As of this moment, you're getting the same odds on both sides of this line, and I think the historic precedent makes it an easy call.
This one is a bit more interesting to me than the scoring line. 11.6 is a slight tick under Embiid's average from last season (11.7), slightly higher than his career average (11.4), and exactly identical to his average from the cursed Al Horford season. Rebounding was one of Philadelphia's biggest problems as a team last season, and so it's natural to assume team improvement will come at least partially from better rebounding.
One way to pad the stats on the glass for the big man is to go out and acquire better perimeter defenders, which is exactly what the Sixers did this offseason. The three-man combination of P.J. Tucker/Danuel House Jr./De'Anthony Melton is a strong group to add to the mix on defense, each with different strengths and role flexibility that can help out various lineups. For Embiid, that matters in a variety of ways, but for this specific prop, it mostly means that Embiid should have more chances to actually box out and go get a rebound. That's a much easier task than constantly trying to come up with a rebound on your second jump after getting in a position to contest layups, runners, and lob attempts from the opponent.
On the other hand, I do think Embiid has some weaknesses as a rebounder even though the raw numbers have basically always been good. There are noticeable lapses in effort and technique that show up in the regular season, with Embiid picking and choosing his spots to exert rebounding energy while trying to lift up the team in other areas. When he's locked in, Embiid can control the glass by himself on both ends of the floor, shielding the opponent with his big frame and going through or around people when necessary. Being the biggest and strongest man on the floor has its perks, obviously. The problem is he knows that, and so he lets some opportunities pass him by because he's standing flat-footed and expecting the ball will just come to him.
I think this one ultimately tilts toward the positive for Embiid, but not a sure thing.
Verdict: Lean over
As he told reporters many times over the years, this is the award Embiid wanted most when he first came into the league. Partially because of the players he patterned his game after (namely Hakeem Olajuwon), partially because he says he believed he'd never be good enough to reach an MVP-type level.
DPOY, though, is an award that rarely gets given to players who are also in the mix for All-NBA/league MVP type awards. This tends to be awarded to specialists and players whose offensive gifts take a backseat to how they tilt a game on offense. Giannis Antetokounmpo managed to win MVP and DPOY in 2019-20, joining Michael Jordan and Olajuwon as the only guys in NBA history to manage that feat in the same year. Outside of that, most winners are players whose names you hear and think "defense first," a la Marcus Smart, Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, and so forth.
(You could argue that Kawhi Leonard is an exception to this general guidance, having won back-to-back DPOY honors in 2015 and 2016. But that first award came during a year where Leonard averaged just 16.5 points per game and was not the nightly threat he is today, the second award coming in his first All-Star season. He was a different player in those days.)
Frankly, if Rudy Gobert manages to tie together a successful defensive frontcourt with Karl-Anthony Towns guarding forwards all season, he's probably going to win this award. Embiid is a terrific defender who I think will have a better defensive year this year as a result of the talent around him, but I think he'll struggle to be a leading contender for this specific award.
Verdict: Save the money for other bets
Strange as it sounds, I think it's more likely that Embiid takes home the league's top individual honor than the league's top defensive honor. While he is recognized by most people as one of the best interior defenders in the league, his ascent to the top of the heap as a scorer takes attention away from the other half of the floor.
But this could end up being the perfect storm for Embiid after he came close to winning the award each of the last two seasons. It's not impossible for Nikola Jokic to win three consecutive MVPs, but he'd be the first to do so since Larry Bird in the '80s, and I suspect anything short of a Denver ass-kicking campaign will leave him short of that goal. If the man who beat him out for the last two trophies is out of the picture, it may be as simple as Embiid getting the, "He's due!" award, even if his play tails off a bit this year. It's not my favorite trend in awards voting, but it's a real phenomenon, and so some voters will probably give him the edge in a close race as a result of this period of sustained excellence.
The more important thing, however, is that this Sixers team has what I would argue is the highest ceiling of any team Embiid has played for. With a resurgent Harden season, growth from Maxey, help from the new additions, and minimal health problems, I don't think 60-plus wins is out of the question for this group. And with Embiid as the unquestioned face of the franchise/the only two-way star within their core, he would be the player who stands to benefit most from that sort of season.
One thing that would get bigger play this season if the Sixers win a ton of games is Embiid's growth in the leadership department. His night-to-night competitiveness was much improved in Doc Rivers' first season, and he made a much greater effort to serve as the team's glue on and off the floor last season, something that helped keep them together during a turbulent year. Absorbing a ball-dominant star like Harden midstream is no easy task, but Embiid immediately synergizing with his co-star on offense speaks to both his talent and his willingness to adapt, both of which will be highlighted if they get rolling this year.
There will be strong competition from around the league, no doubt, between another excellent Giannis season and bids for the crown from younger guys like Luka Doncic. I also wouldn't write off another later-career MVP for someone like Steph Curry — with the Warriors fresh off of another championship, admiration for the all-world shooter's game is at an all-time high, and that could provide the tailwind to get him into the race with another elite season.
The stars do appear to be aligning for Embiid, though. This is the best starting roster he's had around him in his career, he's got some narrative benefits on his side, and he's one of the best basketball players on the planet. Whether that adds up to a podium finish is hard to say, but he'll likely be in the mix as long as he's healthy.
Verdict: Splash a little bit
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