Joel Embiid's surprising numbers prove he's the best scorer in NBA history

Joel Embiid has ascended into another stratosphere as an NBA scorer and he's not slowing down.
San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers
San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

On Monday, January 22nd, Joel Embiid had a historic performance vs. young phenom Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs, scoring 70 points while shooting 24-41 from the field and 21-23 from the free throw line. It was an impressive display of scoring dominance as he scored the most points in a single game in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise.

Scoring 70 points is far from a common occurrence for Embiid, but being the best scorer on the floor is normal for the 29-year-old center. In fact, he is one of the best scorers in the NBA and he is having one of the best scoring seasons of all time. 

Let’s take a closer look and see why he’s been such a dominant scorer and why he might be having the best scoring season of all time.

Joel Embiid has been an incredible scoring threat this season

Joel Embiid is currently averaging around 36 points per game on 65.1% true shooting across 32 games played this season. He leads the league in points per game while also ranking 13th in efficiency, which is wildly impressive. It is extremely difficult to be one of the most efficient scorers in the league while also scoring at such a high volume.

Looking at his game logs is like looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting. If you feel like Embiid is scoring 30 points every night, it’s because he is. He has scored 30 or more points 27 times this season and the last time he scored less than 30 points was on November 15th when he scored 20 points vs. the Boston Celtics. This is one of just two games in which he has scored less than 25 points this year.

Right now, Embiid is almost a shoo-in to score 30 points every night, but he is more than capable of ramping up his scoring to extreme heights. He has scored 40+ points nine times and 50+ points three times this season. It’s no surprise that he leads the league in both 40 and 50-point games.

Another crazy thing about his scoring output is how good he’s been the last two months. Joel Embiid was great as a scorer in the first two months of the season, averaging 31 points on 54.7% shooting in October and 32 points on 48.7% shooting in November. However, he has reached a whole new level in the last sixty days, averaging 40 points on over 50% shooting in December and January.

Joel Embiid is an unstoppable force inside the three-point line

So, what makes Joel Embiid such a dominant scorer? For starters, he is an incredible rim finisher. This season, he is shooting 75% from 0-3 feet, which is a very good mark for someone who takes a ton of shots around the basket. He’s also a fantastic mid-range shooter. This season, he is shooting 50% on all mid-range shots, which is well above average. However, he’s been incredibly effective on long twos specifically, shooting a ridiculous 53% on long mid-range shots.

Another big reason why Embiid has been historically good at putting the ball in the basket is because he gets to the free throw line at a super high rate and he is a very good free throw shooter. Sure, he hunts for fouls and flops a lot, which a lot of fans despise, but it’s not his fault that referees reward this kind of playstyle or that this playstyle is so effective. This season, Embiid is averaging a league-leading 12.2 free throws per game with a free throw rate of 0.546. Once he reaches the charity stripe, he’s shooting just under 89%, which is incredible for a big man.

Joel Embiid is having an all time great scoring season

Where does this scoring season rank all time? Spoiler alert, it ranks pretty high.

In NBA history, four players have averaged 36 points per game in a single season: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, James Harden, and Elgin Baylor. Jordan, Harden, and Baylor did it just once, while Chamberlain did it five times. Joel Embiid has a chance to join this list if his scoring dominance continues.

Let’s adjust for the difference in how many minutes players play today than they did in the 1960s by looking at points per 36 minutes. Only two players in NBA history have averaged 36 points per 36 minutes in a single season: Wilt Chamberlain and James Harden. Once again, Embiid could join this list this year.

So far, we’ve only looked at the scoring volume when making these historical comparisons. Let’s add efficiency to the equation. If you made a list of every player in NBA history who has averaged 36 points per game on 65% true shooting, you wouldn’t have to do much work, because no one has ever done it. Joel Embiid has a chance to be the first.

To be fair, though, the bar for efficient scoring has drastically changed throughout NBA history. What was considered efficient scoring in the 1960s would be wildly inefficient in today’s game. To adjust for this, let’s use a stat like TS+ which compares every player’s true shooting percentage to the league average of the time they played and puts it on a scale where 100 is average.

Joel Embiid’s TS+ this season is 112, which is an excellent mark that Wilt Chamberlain matched when he averaged 37 points per 36 minutes in 1961. Based on my research, these would be the only two players with this level of scoring productivity if Joel Embiid can keep it up.

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However you look at the numbers, it’s clear that Joel Embiid is having arguably the best scoring season in NBA history. This level of scoring volume and scoring efficiency is incredibly rare and unlike anything we've ever seen in recent memory. If Joel Embiid can continue producing at this level he will join Wilt Chamberlain as arguably the best scoring center in NBA history.