Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid clinched the 2021-22 NBA scoring title Sunday, becoming the first international player to do so.
Embiid, who was born in Cameroon, was already the overwhelming favorite to claim the first scoring title by a center since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 heading into the final day of the regular season. He locked up the honor when Giannis Antetokounmpo was ruled out of the Milwaukee Bucks’ finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Embiid had 30.6 points per game entering Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, while Antetokounmpo finished the season with 29.9. Had Embiid scored zero points Sunday, Antetokounmpo would have had to score 47 against Cleveland to win the title. If Embiid hadn’t played, Antetokounmpo would have needed 78.
Embiid is listed as questionable to play against Detroit with right knee soreness.
Embiid’s stiffest competition, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (30.3 PPG), didn’t qualify for the scoring title after a sprained ankle cost him the final few games of the season. James played in 56 games in 2021-22, under the 58-game threshold necessary to qualify for season-ending awards.
Beyond becoming the first international player to lead the league in scoring, Embiid set other marks this season. He will set the record for playing the fewest minutes per game by a scoring champion since the shot clock was introduced in the 1954-55 season. His current 33.8 minutes per game would surpass Stephen Curry’s 34.2 minutes in 2015-16 and last season. The MVP candidate also became the first center to average more than 30 points for a season since Moses Malone in 1981-82 (when the Hall of Famer won the MVP).
Philadelphia enters Sunday in fourth place in the East and can move up to third with a win over Detroit and a loss by the Boston Celtics in Memphis against the Grizzlies.
If the Sixers claim the third seed, they would play the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, which begin next weekend. As the fourth seed, the 76ers would face the Toronto Raptors in the first round.