The Last Week Cost Joel Embiid the All-Star Team

Usually, an All-Star debate about who should get in and who shouldn't necessitates an avalanche of numbers backing up both sides, but in the case of Sixers everlasting light Joel Embiid -- snubbed during last night's announcement of this year's Eastern Conference All-Star reserves -- only one really matters: 30, the number of games he's played this season. That's just not a lot of games -- barely 2/3 of those the Philadelphia 76ers have played this season, and 13 fewer than Atlanta's Paul Millsap, the workmanlike All-Star most will point to as the player who took Joel's roster spot. And that's not even getting into Embiid's team-mandated minutes limit, which, combined with the missed games, have resulted in JoJo only being on the court 79% as often as Sergio Rodriguez this season. 

Of course, I would've voted for Joel Embiid anyway, because I believe that the All-Star Game should be more about featuring the year's best players (and the players that the fans most want to see) than about rewarding the players who have technically provided the most production for the half-season. But I can't really fault those who see the latter point as being the most important of the three, and by their logic, it's practically inarguable that Embiid should have gotten in over Millsap.

The only thing I wonder about is if Embiid would've gotten in anyway if not for the last week. 

As you may recall, before last Friday, Joel Embiid had scored 20-plus in each of his previous ten games, the last five of which the Sixers had also won. He had a positive point differential, he had stupefying on/off numbers, and perhaps most importantly, he had momentum and narrative on his side. His dominance had become so awe-inspiring and omnipresent that even Zach Lowe, the common-sense conscience of NBA media, had started to waver in his anti-Embiid All-Star stance. 

If he'd finished the game in Portland, rested Saturday in Atlanta, then dressed this week for the Raptors and Clippers games, the wave would've been undeniable, I think. The difference between 32 games and 30 isn't that tremendous -- perennial All-Star Chris Paul played 36 games this season and still didn't get in, after all, though his current injury rendering him out until after the break likely influenced his exclusion. But the less-round 32 looks not quite so conspicuous, and with PT in those two games, the continuing story of Embiid's ridiculousness would've persisted, convincing coaches -- at least, those who waited until mid-week to turn in their votes -- to let themselves look the other way when it comes to the GP and MP columns on his Basketball-Reference page. 

Then there's the fact that Philly won the last two games against tough opponents, without JoJo. That's certainly not to suggest that anyone now believes the Sixers to be worse (or even not significantly better) with Embiid in the lineup -- only to say that had the Sixers played pathetically for that back-to-back, it might've done nearly as much good as Joel actually playing; instead demonstrating just how desparately the team needs his 28 minutes a night to even have a chance of victory. This week didn't offer any evidence why Joel Embiid shouldn't have been an All-Star, but it also didn't offer any further evidence why he should have been. And for a player whose All-Star selection would always have verged on the unprecedented, those missed opportunities for extra juice might've ultimately made the difference between him making it and not. 

Does it ultimately matter that much? Nah. It would've been fun to have Joel Embiid in the All-Star Game -- mostly because it's fun to have Joel Embiid anywhere, and because it would've represented a culmination of something for the Process-era Sixers, and because JoJo likely would've escalated his previous ass-slapping bout with Western Conference All-Star DeMarcus Cousins into a full-on arms race of horseplay and shenanigans. But it's cool: The NBA isn't stupid, and they'll undoubtedly ensure that Embiid's presence looms large over All-Star Weekend just the same. At the very least, he is going to run rampant over the rest of the Rising Stars challenge; Jahlil should thank his lucky stars that no one expects him to play defense in the game anyway. 

And could this be the best thing for Embiid, anyway? My dad, who was actively rooting against The Process for All-Star Sunday, certainly believes so; the only hardware he wants Joel to collect that weekend is a big ol' chip on his shoulder for the rest of the season. Fair enough -- and if we're going to make that playoff push that seems at least 10% more possible now than when I declared it a virtual impossibility a couple weeks ago, he'll certainly need it. But I still would've voted for him, I still wanted to see him, and I'm still bummed that the last week cost us our chance to do so, because you can never take these moments for granted with a player as special as JoJo. As Tim Riggins would say: Never turn away a Joel Embiid-related memory.

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