Today’s NBA is made up of a generation of players influenced by Kobe Bryant’s game, one of the many ways his legacy will live on forever. And while it’s easy to look directly at the league’s most prolific perimeter scorers when engaging in the ‘Next Kobe’ debate, maybe it’s time to think bigger… literally bigger. Because the tape doesn’t lie: 76ers center Joel Embiid has become something of a 7-foot Mamba.
Listen to me.
For a period of time over the past decade, there have been countless discussions about whether or not a true impact center would be necessary in the NBA, as if the position itself was being phased out. It turned out that the position was simply reinventing itself, with the likes of Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns leading the revolution.
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When you think of Jokic, you’ll think of his elite passing before delving into the rest of the reigning MVP’s game. When it comes to Towns, what comes to mind is his 41.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
As for Embiid, he’ll probably start thinking about his offensive dominance, as his 29.0 points per game is good for third in the NBA and, you guessed it, first among all centers this season. Embiid has entered the MVP race squarely with a dominant stretch of play that has hoops experts calling out the names of Shaq, Wilt, Kareem and Hakeem.
But while Embiid, like Jokic and Towns, is also doing his part to redefine the center position even while listening to performances from the game’s great greats, he’s simply doing things 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 stuff like this:
— NBA (@NBA) December 12, 2023
But what makes him practically unstoppable is the ability to stand up to doing things like this:
When your center can take a step back 3 🙌
— NBA (@NBA) December 31, 2023
Joel Embiid has the ball on a string!
Have up to 13 PTS in the first quarter in NBA League Pass⤵
Watch it now: https://t.co/wVIrg3a7TL pic.twitter.com/fidmCh3y0G
— NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2023
And sometimes this:
JOEL EMBIID IS NOT A HUMAN BEING pic.twitter.com/UTlua3jwaG
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 8, 2023
While it’s not uncommon to see a center put the ball down from time to time, Embiid’s combination of ball handling, footwork and scoring ability from three levels is something we’ve never seen before.
Well, not from a player of his stature.
On Monday, January 17, Embiid’s coach, Drew Hanlen, took to Twitter to share clips of Embiid, combined with highlights from Kobe and Michael Jordan, two players Embiid has clearly shaped his game. It may sound out of the box in theory, but trust me, these 60 seconds could change your mind.
— Drew Hanlen (@DrewHanlen) January 18, 2023
From spin jumpers to dribbling fades and pull-ups, it’s pretty evident that Embiid has gone to the lab every summer and worked on patterning his game after Kobe, who undoubtedly patterned his game after of Jordan.
Following Kobe’s tragic death in 2020, Embiid, who wore number 24 in a game in his honor, spoke about the impact Bryant had on his life.
“Kobe was the idol,” Embiid said. “When you look at my story, I started playing in 2010 watching the Finals, the Lakers vs. the Celtics, and that was the turning point of my life… After seeing that, I just wanted to be like him. I just wanted to play basketball.”
And to think that just 12 years after making the decision to commit to basketball, Embiid has become one of the most dominant players in the league, all while emulating a certain Kobe Bryant.
When you think about the ways the game has grown, you see the biggest influences that have been emulated by generations to come. Julius Erving was the object of Jordan’s adulation, and in turn, Jordan inspired an entire generation, with Kobe becoming a similar, yet different version.
This new generation of players features players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and DeMar DeRozan, who are clearly influenced by Bryant in more ways than one. But every night, it’s Embiid with the constant flashes that make you smile and remember Kobe.
To think that he can continue to improve is a terrifying prospect for the rest of the league.