Joel Embiid in the All-Star Game would be exactly what this mid-season exhibition should be — entertaining. Fun. There would be dunks, blocks, mugging for the camera, joking around with teammates, and besides nobody plays more than 28 minutes anyway. If this is an exhibition game for the entertainment of the fans, then who embodies that more right now than Embiid?
And he’s probably not going to make the cut.
Sorry, Philly fans.
Those fans — and all the ones that voted worldwide, even Team Zaza from Georgia — voted to make Embiid a starter for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game. However, once the media and player votes were factored in he fell to fourth behind Jimmy Butler (LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were in easily as the other frontcourt players).
If Embiid is to be a rookie All-Star now it falls to the coaches to pick him, they select the reserves (to be announced Thursday). The coaches do vote for three more frontcourt players, plus they have two wild cards spots to hand out. That’s probably not going to be enough. It’s difficult to see Embiid getting the coaches’ votes ahead of guys such as Paul George, Kevin Love, and Paul Millsap (three frontcourt players). There are two wild card spots, but there are so many good guards in the East that group likely soaks up both slots there. That leaves Embiid out in the cold.
It’s difficult to see Embiid getting the coaches’ votes ahead of guys such as Paul George, Kevin Love, and Paul Millsap (three frontcourt players). Is Embiid more fun than those guys? More impactful when on the court? Yes, and arguably yes. But coaches are old-school guys who like reliability, men who pay their dues and earn their spots, and they like subtlety in players’ games. You know, guys like Millsap. There are two wild card spots, but there are so many good guards in the East that group likely soaks up both slots there. That leaves Embiid out in the cold. Zach Lowe of ESPN spoke with executives about Embiid as All-Star and summed it up perfectly.
I’ve been polling team executives on Embiid’s candidacy for the last week, and the response of one Embiid supporter stood out. He lobbied for Embiid over Millsap largely because Embiid would be more fun. Millsap’s game is all subtle positioning, canny passing, and laborious drives to the rim. There is no room for subtlety in the All-Star Game, this person reasoned.
And then he concluded: “I realize that’s not really fair to Paul Millsap.”
The real problem isn’t Embiid’s play, it’s how often he is playing. He’s missed 13 games this season due to rest and injury, and thanks to his minute’s restriction has played just 758 minutes all season. “Not fun” Millsap is at 1,427 minutes in 42 games. Other guys who can make a case for an All-Star slot are Kristaps Porzingis (1,312 minutes in 39 games) and Hassan Whiteside (1,379 minutes in 41 games). Coaches are going to take that into account when voting, this is how they think. Do you really think NBA coach = fun? Maybe Steve Kerr does but after that?
One thing that could happen: The coaches don’t vote Embiid in, but one of the front court players ahead of him suffers a minor injury and decides to sit out the game (this usually happens to a couple players who make the team each season). Adam Silver would name the replacement, and he likely will lean heavily on the fan vote to guide him, which would get Embiid a spot. Just something to watch.
Joel Embiid is going to make a lot of All-Star Games down the line. Hopefully with Ben Simmons, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. What Embiid has shown this season makes him more than the Rookie of the Year, it makes him an obvious franchise cornerstone (if he can stay healthy).
It just doesn’t make him an All-Star. Yet.