On Tuesday, Joel Embiid tallied 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while outplaying Nikola Jokovic in a Philadelphia 76ers’ win over the Denver Nuggets.
Charles Barkley was not impressed. Neither was Shaquille O’Neal. The “Inside the NBA” analysts and Hall of Fame big men had critical words for the 76ers center despite the big outing.
‘You ain’t playing hard enough’
“We're telling you, you can be great,” O’Neal said during TNT’s postgame coverage. “You ain't playing hard enough. Twenty-two ain't enough to get you to the next level.
“Do you want to be great, or do you want to be good? If you want to be good, keep doing 22 points. You want to be great, give me 28, give me 30. You want to be great, watch Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. He wants to be great.”
O’Neal of course, regularly takes the stance that if you didn’t do exactly what he did as a big man, you’re doing something wrong. His criticism of Embiid falls right in line.
Barkley: Embiid not among NBA’s elite
The criticism from Barkley, a 76ers icon, was a little more pointed.
“He's the toughest player in the league to match up with," Barkley said. “But we don't talk about him the way we talk about Luka [Doncic], Giannis, Anthony Davis, James. We don't ever say that about him.”
It’s true. Embiid is a superb talent. But thanks to a mouth that doesn’t always match his intensity level and a career that’s not advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs, he’s not mentioned in the same stratosphere as the game’s truly elite. He’s a notch down.
Embiid: ‘I’ve got to make a change’
Embiid is rarely one to let criticism slide. But Barkley and O’Neal are icons. And Embiid not only took their words in stride. He told reporters on Thursday that he agreed with them.
“Maybe they're right,” Embiid said. “I do think they're right. I think I need to be more aggressive and just look to impose myself and look to dominate. I think the whole season, I haven’t done that.
“I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominating. I get what they’re saying. I think that they’re right, and I’ve got to make a change.”
76ers lagging behind NBA’s best
With LeBron James and now Kawhi Leonard gone West, many anointed the 76ers alongside the Bucks as the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference.
While Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are off to a scorching 22-3 start and in the midst of a 16-game win streak, the 76ers sit in fourth place in the East at 18-7. Much like the perception of Embiid, they’re good. But they don’t look like legitimate contenders.
And that was the crux of O’Neal’s and Barkley’s criticism. Many thought by now that the combined talent of Embiid and Ben Simmons would have Philadelphia fighting for NBA championships at this point in their careers. But they remain in the second tier of teams.
With Embiid’s scoring average dropping to 22 points per game this season from 27.5 last season, he makes an easy peg. Of course having an All-Star point guard who can’t shoot also presents its fair share of problems.
But Embiid can’t make Simmons a better shooter. He can only worry about improving his own game. And it sounds like he realizes he needs to if the 76ers are going to take the next step.
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