CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — New year, new Joel Embiid. The Sixers’ All-Star center came into training camp 20 pounds lighter and has some hefty goals on his mind.
After last season ended, Embiid became a meme as cameras captured him tearfully exiting the floor following a riveting seven-game series against the Toronto Raptors, that ended with a miraculous quadruple-doink shot from Kawhi Leonard.
With that shot cemented in his mind, Embiid used it as motivation heading into his sixth NBA season.
“It helped a lot, as far as planning my summer. I knew that I had to be in better shape, you can’t control sickness but all I can do is make sure I eat the right things and do what I can do best and get stronger,” Embiid told reporters. “I’ve just been extremely focused on what I have to do. I still have a long way to go, I’m not at my goal yet.”
Embiid averaged 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds in 64 regular season games for the Sixers but dealt with knee tendinitis throughout the year. He missed 12 games down the stretch and in the series with the Raptors, he averaged just 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds.
But this season, the All-Star wants to do more. He wants to play more games, win awards and push the Sixers to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“Going into this year, one of the things we have to focus on is we really want that No. 1 seed and that’s going to take 60 [wins] and over,” Embiid says. “That team success also helps me when it comes to my goal, which is Defensive Player of the Year and MVP.”
No player in NBA history has ever won an NBA title, MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. However, a few of the greats have won a championship and MVP with the last being LeBron James in 2012.
Embiid added that he knows if he focuses on those 60 wins and the top seed, his game will be elevated and propel him to be in the conversation for those elite awards.
Embiid said his focus was enhanced after he heard the team was losing J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler — who combined for over 36 points per game last year — because now he knows the attention will be more on him.
“This year I feel like they’re going to make everyone shoot the ball, so going into the summer, I felt these guys would need me to take over. And you have to be more than a post player,” Embiid says. “It’s easier for other teams to send double teams when you’re just posting up, so now you have to shoot and attack off the dribble, so I worked a lot on that and I got a lot better.”
With a new offensive mindset, winning on his mind and taking care of his body, Embiid may be on the verge of unlocking another level of his game that may turn him into an unstoppable force in the NBA.
He will also be paired in the middle with longtime rival Al Horford, who admitted he had his own troubles with Embiid and is looking forward to teaching him throughout the year.
“I’m going to be playing and performing without worrying about being healthy,” Embiid said at the end of his time with the media.
Even though the loss to the Raptors stung fans and players, it may also have allowed one of the most dominant players in the league to turn up his intensity, which could spell doom for every opposing big man and team as Embiid sets his sights on etching his name among the greats.