The noise you heard last night, was Karl-Anthony Towns reminding us that he will always be in the shadows of his peers. On Monday night in Philadelphia, Joel Embiid painted his magnum opus on his way to a 70-point, 18-rebound display of scoring prowess. Embiid’s 70 points also fell on the 18-year anniversary of Philly’s own Kobe Bryant traumatizing Jalen Rose and the Raptors with 81 points. Nikola Jokić is your NBA MVP 2023… or is he?Joel Embiid is the NBA’s most productive scorer per minute in history. Every 36 minutes he is on the floor, Embiid is able to score at a high rate. Since Tuesday, Embiid is now the only player in NBA history to average more than 50 points per 48 minutes. The caveat being that he plays 14 minutes less per night than Wilt Chamberlain did in his 1962 season.Victor Wembanyama may be the future of basketball, but against the Philadelphia 76ers he was given a harsh dose of the current reality he lives in. Embiid’s game is not particularly aesthetically appealing, but he metes out enough punishment inside the paint to make defenders look like inflatable tube men. His game beyond the arc is flawless, aiming for the new league average of 36 percent from three-point range.Yet, Embiid has become a target of disdain for his ability to execute free throws and then miss them. Lamenting the prevalence of three-point shooting is old news. The new wave is bemoaning free-throw bricking. In recent weeks, NBA gasbags have been obsessed with Embiid’s record-breaking free-throw shooting percentage. You know the discourse around Embiid has boiled over when the first question in the post-game chat following his 34-point halftime performance was: „How many free throws?“To answer the question: Embiid visited the line 23 times and missed 21 of those attempts. Without free throws, he scored 47 points. Cry about it. Wembanyama reacted subdued to Embiid’s performance but reminded everyone what this era is about: „It’s a game for big men.“Nikola Jokic is the best player in the NBA until he can actually be dethroned in the regular season. However, Embiid is currently the most worthy challenger, while Wemby is just starting his search for the throne. Embiid and Jokic are vying for supremacy. We are witnessing a generational season from Embiid, increasing the pressure on Daryl Morey to make a trade, before or shortly after the deadline, that doesn’t render the whole thing moot. There’s a good chance Embiid wins another scoring title, misses a handful more games to fall below the 65-game threshold, making him ineligible for All-NBA teams, the MVP, and his season lands in the dustbin of history.However, Embiid wasn’t the only big player setting nets on fire. Simultaneously, Towns recorded 62 points – a defeat – against the Charlotte Hornets. The anchor of their defense, Mark Williams, was absent for the last few weeks due to a back contusion he had picked up a month and a half ago. In Towns‘ case, however, Minnesota couldn’t even secure a W as they were entrapped in Towns‘ career night. After his 44-point first-half triumph, Towns actually cooled off significantly. In fact, the Timberwolves were so focused on securing a 60-burger for Towns that they forgot it was a close game, prompting Chris Finch to criticize his team for their immature play.“It’s often the case that just because you shoot two, three or four points in a row, knowing we will of course try to feed a hot hand, we are looking for a hot hand, but at some stage we have to do the right stuff again, we have to do the right things again,“ Finch said in his post-game availability. „As I said earlier, there are many ways we were immature. There are just lots of ways to be immature. There was a lot of immature play across the board. We disrespected the game and ourselves, and exactly what we deserved.“Finch was in full Grinch mode. Ironically, Finch loves to score big goals. He was the original Jokic whisperer in Denver. He was the architect of the Pelicans‘ reverse offense with Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, he previously worked with Zion Williamson, and he’s done well enough with Gobert in the T-Wolves to secure the number 1. Yes, they are still the top team in the West quietly, despite the incessant talk about the rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder.Towns could have been the Embiid of this era, but for some reason, he never developed the physicality or preference for toughness on both sides of the ball necessary to stand out as a true big man at All-NBA level in this or any other age. Remember the pesky free-throws? Embiid needs nearly twice as many trips to the line as Towns.But if Towns can’t be a big-time elite player in an era where style and governance are in his favor, where would he fit in then? George Mikan was a scrappy guy in his day, so don’t dare claim he would be „that guy“ at the start of the league.Kritiker of Embiid’s frequent free throws should rejoice that Towns scored only half as many free throws as Embiid. When his shot isn’t falling, Embiid can contribute in more diverse ways, and that doesn’t only include his superior defense. Towns is one of the greatest living three-point shooters, but at the post, he’s a minnow. Everything Towns does, Jokic and Embiid do better and more efficiently. On a career night, Towns felt honored once again.
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