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January 19, 2017

Sixers' Joel Embiid falls short of starting spot in NBA All-Star Game

As it turns out, Joel Embiid won’t be starting in next month’s NBA All-Star Game. But he should be.

The starting five for the East, which includes a pair of Cavaliers, is Kyrie Irving (CLE), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), LeBron James (CLE), Jimmy Butler (CHI) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL). Kevin Love, who held the third and final frontcourt spot throughout much of the fan voting, was passed by Butler, who was one spot behind Embiid heading into the final few days of fan voting. 

For the West, it will be a pair of Warriors in the starting lineup. They'll go with Stephen Curry (GS) and James Harden (HOU) in the backcourt and Kevin Durant (GS), Anthony Davis (NO), and Kawhi Leonard (SA) in the frontcourt. Noticeably missing from that group is Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. All he's done is average a triple-double all season.

Love held a 16,000-vote lead over Embiid heading into the final few days of voting — Embiid had no chance of catching James or the Greek Freak, who had nearly twice as many votes — and despite a furious rally of support from local fans to big-time stars, the 22-year-old was unable earn a spot.

That's because fans only counted for 50 percent of a player’s final score, with the other 50 percent being divided evenly between current players and members of the media. If it was still solely up to the fans, Embiid would've made it. 

He actually passed Love for third in the fan voting, receiving close to 30,000 more votes over the final four days of voting. 

Any other year, that would've been enough to crack the starting lineup. But Embiid finished fifth in the media vote and eighth in the player vote. 

In previous seasons, the starters were selected based on the fan vote alone.

This, however, does not end Embiid’s chances of playing in New Orleans and securing that ever-elusive date with his celebrity crush. He can — and should — still be selected as a reserve. Those players are selected by current NBA coaches, with results announced next Thursday at 7 p.m.

And after what Embiid’s been able to do on the court over the past few weeks, it’s getting harder for them to potentially justify leaving him off the squad.

In Wednesday night's win over the Toronto Raptors, Embiid scored 26 points -- 12 in the fourth quarter -- for his tenth straight 20-point game. That's the second-longest streak by a Sixers rookie (Allen Iverson, 11) in franchise history.

JOEL EMBIID (2016-17)

25.4 MIN/G | 46.1 FG% | 34.8 3P% | 79.0 FT% | 50.1 eFG%

PER GAME 19.9 7.8 2.0 2.4
PER 36 28.2 11.0 2.8 3.4

I’m not entirely sure what reason NBA coaches could have for leaving him off the team, so I’ve decided to build a few straw men out of the excuses we may hear if Embiid doesn’t make it. Let’s take a look…

•  If they want to be critical of his minutes limit — That’s not his fault -- he really wants to be out there -- and despite that limit, he’s putting up numbers that few rookies before him ever have.

•  If they want to be critical of him not playing back-to-backs — That’s laughable. The kid missed two seasons with injuries and is posting historical numbers in far fewer minutes than his peers.

•  If they want to be critical of his rookie status — Why? Doesn’t that make what he’s doing all the more impressive? And, sure, he had two years of sitting on the bench to get used to life in the NBA. But don’t forget that this kid has only been playing basketball for the last six-plus years.  

•  If they want to be critical of his team’s record — Fine. But then I also have to assume they’d have a problem with any players from the Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Nets, or Heat — all of whom have worse records than the Sixers — being named an all-star. And what about the Magic, Kings, Pelicans, Blazers, and Nuggets? The Sixers are within three games of all those teams, and they're just 3.5 behind the Knicks. If nothing else, the Sixers’ play without Embiid is one of the strongest cases that he should play in the game. 

The kid is a star, plain and simple. And not only is he single-handedly making Sixers basketball fun again, but he's actually turned the team into a legit threat night in and night out. 

Just ask Kyle Lowry and the Raptors. 

They came into the Wells Fargo Center sporting the second-best record in the East while posting some of the best offensive numbers of all-time. They left with a loss after scoring just 89 points, well below their season average of 111 points per game. 

And a huge part of that was due to the presence of Embiid -- this season, the Sixers are near the top of the league in defensive rating when he is on the court and dead last in the league when he is off the court. 

Here are the splits from the Raptors game, via ESPN Stats & Info.

OPP PTS/4876.4105.1

That performance, as you might expect, was closer to the rule than its exception.

On the season, the 76ers have outscored opponents by 68 points when Embiid is on the floor. He is the only 76ers player with a positive plus-minus. When Embiid scores more than 20 points in a game, the 76ers are 10-6 this season (they’re 4-20 when he scores 20 or fewer or does not play).

Another way to analyze what Embiid is doing for the 76ers: They have the scoring margin of a 56-win team with him on the floor this season. The 76ers have a scoring margin of an 11-win team with him off the floor.  [ESPN Stats & Info]

If you can look past the fact that he doesn't play every night -- and is limited on the nights he does -- there's absolutely no defense for keeping Embiid out of the NBA All-Star Game.

One easy way to do that is to check out his per-100-possession numbers compared to the others among the top vote-getters in the East (not including LeBron).

2 G. Antetokounmpo .538 12.6 8.1 3.0 34.3
3 K. Love .432 16.9 2.6 0.6 32.5
4 J. Embiid .461 15.1 3.8 4.7 38.8
5 J. Butler .452 9.4 6.6 0.4 34.3
6 C. Anthony .429 8.8 4.6 0.6 32.8
7 K. Porzingis .449 10.8 2.0 2.9 28.2

Make him an All-Star, NBA coaches. Or your team may be next.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin