Did Joel Embiid Have a Stronger All-Star Case Than Paul Millsap?
The NBA All-Star rosters for the 2017 showcase in New Orleans have been set, and as always, there are a few players who were left off, receiving the label of "snub."
Debates on whether or not certain players deserve the right to the label "All-Star" over others have raged across the internet, following the announcement and into the weekend, but the most hotly contested has to be with Joel Embiid.
The Philadelphia 76ers' rookie is finally playing actual basketball games, and it's safe to say that he's living up to all of the hype that he came into the league with. It's rare for a rookie to put on the highlight show he's known for on an almost nightly basis, and on top of this, the Sixers are starting to put together wins. He might be one of the five best tickets in basketball right now.
He recently had a coming out party of sorts on national TV when James Harden had a 50-point triple-double. Harden was the headline, but Embiid's 32 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 assists, and 2 blocks did not go unnoticed. They further fueled the fire that he deserved an All-Star nod.
Of course, with every snub there comes a scapegoat, a player who "clearly doesn't deserve to be there." This year, the target of debate became the Atlanta Hawks' Paul Millsap, seen as the weakest member of the All-Star group from the East.
And in a pure statistical sense, an argument can be made that Embiid should have been put in over Millsap.
The Case for Embiid
In only 25 minutes per game, Embiid is putting up counting stats equal or superior to Millsap's with better efficiency numbers.
His 58.4 percent true shooting percentage is comfortably higher than Millsap's 53.4 percent, largely thanks to shooting a better percentage on three-pointers (36.7 percent to 33.4 percent). Embiid also maintains this efficiency on an insanely high usage rate of 36.4 percent.
What may be even more stunning is Embiid's ability to change a defense so early in his career. The Sixers are an above average defense, giving up 104.9 points per 100 possessions on that end of the floor. The league average, per Basketball-Reference, is 108.4.
With Embiid on the floor, the Sixers' defense is a juggernaut, posting a defensive rating of 102.0. That jumps all the way to 111.0 with him on the bench.
When Embiid plays, it goes beyond just playing solid basketball. He's carrying the Sixers in every way possible, and without him they would be as bad, if not worse, than last season's disaster.
With Embiid on a minutes restriction, it raises questions on what he would be able to do in larger minutes, and while it's not a perfect science, his per-36 numbers say that if Embiid continued to play at his current rate he would be putting up something close to 28 points and 11 rebounds, as a rookie.
The Case for Millsap
While Embiid's numbers are simply stunning, there is one area that jumps out, and it's his 5.1 fouls per 36 minutes. Embiid is able to play very loosely in his 25 minutes without fear of fouling out or running out of energy for the late-game push in a close contest.
It's also worth noting that Embiid is in a great opportunity to put up numbers on a bad team. He's a great player, but there's a sense of inflation here that hurts him and his All-Star candidacy. It's those slight cracks in his case for an All-Star spot that gave Millsap the nod over him.
What gave Millsap the final All-Star spot is, simply, that he's an incredible player in his own right.
Millsap's counting stats and base efficiency numbers aren't at the same level as Embiid's, and he's a worse three-point shooter. However, an advantage Millsap has over Embiid is being the best basketball player on a team that's currently in the playoffs.
The Hawks' net rating when Millsap is not on the floor is a -9.0, easily the highest on the team. Only two players on Atlanta have higher net ratings when on the floor, and neither of them have the same role as Millsap. He's the best player in Atlanta, and it's not particularly close. His 17 points and 8 rebounds per game might not come across as much, but they're helping Atlanta win games.
Millsap's usage comes in around 24 percent, which is more normal for most NBA teams, and he's shooting a solid 53.4 percent by true shooting percentage.
Further solidifying his importance to Atlanta is just the sheer difference of net rating in wins and losses. In wins, Millsap has a plus 13.4 net rating, but in losses, that falls all the way to a -14.1.
It's this importance Millsap has to a winning team that makes his case for the All-Star game in New Orleans. His numbers are very good, and not too far out of reach to what Embiid is currently putting up.
He's an every man who does exactly what the Hawks need and more. Without him, they would likely look like a team destined for the lottery.
Both players are deserving of an All-Star spot, but someone had to be left out.
Is Millsap's case good enough to pull that final coveted All-Star spot away from Embiid? Yes, depending on your viewpoint of what makes an All-Star an All-Star.
Of course, Embiid has the slightly superior numbers and has been playing his best basketball right at the perfect time. That said, the minutes restriction he plays under along with being on a team that's currently five games out of the playoff hurt his case.
Millsap being the most important player on a playoff team is what sealed the deal for him at the end of the day.