Today’s NBA is made up of a generation of players influenced by Kobe Bryant’s game, one of the many ways in which his legacy will live on forever. And while it’s easy to look directly towards the league’s most prolific perimeter scorers when engaging in the ‘Next Kobe’ debate, perhaps it’s time to think bigger… as in literally, bigger. Because the tape doesn’t lie: 76ers center Joel Embiid has become something of a 7-foot Mamba himself.
Hear me out.
For a period of time during the last decade, there were countless discussions of whether or not there would be a need for a true, impactful center in the NBA, as if the position itself was being phased out. As it turns out, the position was simply being reinvented, with players like Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns at the forefront of the revolution.
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When you think Jokic, you’ll think of his elite passing before delving into the rest of the reigning MVP’s game. When it comes to Towns, it’s his 41.6 percent 3-point shooting that comes to mind.
As for Embiid, you’ll probably begin by thinking of his offensive dominance, as his 29.0 points per game are good for third in the NBA and, you guessed it, first among all centers this season. Embiid has squarely arrived in the MVP race with a stretch of dominant play that has hoops pundits uttering the names Shaq, Wilt, Kareem and Hakeem.
But while Embiid — like Jokic and Towns — is also doing his part to redefine the center position even while harkening performances from the game’s great bigs, he’s quite simply doing things that 7-footers aren’t supposed to do.
MORE: Embiid is unstoppable, and his MVP case is growing
Sure, Embiid will use his 7-foot, 280-pound frame to do things like this:
But what makes him virtually unstoppable is the ability to face up to do things like this:
And, on occasion, this:
While it’s not uncommon to see a center put the ball on the floor from time to time, Embiid’s blend of ballhandling, footwork and ability to score from three levels is something we’ve never seen before.
Well, not from a player of his stature.
On Monday, Jan. 17, Embiid’s trainer, Drew Hanlen, took to Twitter to share clips of Embiid, spliced with highlights of Kobe and Michael Jordan, two players that Embiid has clearly modeled his game after. It might sound out of the box in theory but trust me, these 60 seconds could change your mind.
From the turnaround jumpers to the fadeaways and one-dribble pull ups, it’s pretty evident that Embiid has gone into the lab each summer and worked on patterning his game after Kobe, who, undoubtedly patterned his game after Jordan.
Following Kobe’s tragic death in 2020, Embiid, who wore No. 24 for one game in his honor, spoke on the impact that Bryant had on his life.
“Kobe was the idol,” Embiid said. “When you look at my story, I started playing the game back in 2010 watching the Finals, the Lakers against the Celtics, and that was the turning point of my life … After watching that, I just wanted to be like him. I just wanted to play basketball.”
To think that just 12 years after making the decision to commit to basketball, Embiid has become one of the league’s most dominant players, all while emulating one Kobe Bryant.
When you think of the ways in which the game has grown, you look the biggest influences that have been emulated by generations to come. Julius Erving was the subject of Jordan’s adulation and in turn, Jordan inspired an entire generation, with Kobe developing into a version that was similar, but different.
This new generation of players features the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and DeMar DeRozan, who are each clearly influenced by Bryant in more ways than one. But on a nightly basis, it’s Embiid with the consistent flashes that make you smile and reminisce about Kobe.
To think he can continue to get better is a scary prospect for the rest of the league.