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Sixers' Joel Embiid has Exceeded Doc Rivers' Expectations so far

Doc Rivers knew Joel Embiid was talented -- but his progress this season is exceeding expectations.

Joel Embiid's talent has never been in question. Ever since he was gearing up for the NBA Draft coming out of Kansas, the big man was expected to go number one before a foot injury set him back. After landing with the Philadelphia 76ers at pick No. 3, Embiid has proven he was a steal of a selection and worth the wait.

Over the years, Embiid's conditioning has been a question mark for spectators. This past offseason, he's had enough of the critics. As he changed his ways off the court and took on a new regimen to get his body right, Embiid has looked better than ever on the court for the Sixers this season.

And first-year Sixers head coach Doc Rivers still gets surprised on a nightly basis because of what he's witnessing out of his superstar big man.

"He's just more talented than even I knew," Rivers said on Wednesday night following the Sixers' win over the Boston Celtics. "I knew he was extremely talented but he has so many more gifts. You know, off the dribble, he can make his spots. One of his weak points I guess was post passing and he's been phenomenal in that this year."

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Before Wednesday night's game against the Boston Celtics, Embiid was playing like an NBA MVP candidate. In the 11 games prior to Wednesday night, the big man was averaging 25 points-per-game and 11 rebounds rebounds-per-game. 

With his teammates struggling to match the high-powered scoring from Celtics' Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, Embiid put the Sixers on his back Wednesday night and willed them to an eight-point win over Boston. 

By the end of the night, Embiid had 42 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. Wednesday's matchup marked the second time he exceeded 40 points in a game this season. 

Rivers knew he was dealing with a superstar when he signed with the Sixers months ago, but Embiid has been even better than advertised through his first 12 games this year. Although it's still early, Embiid's start to the 2020-2021 NBA season makes it easy to believe he'll be an MVP candidate if he can sustain this level of play. 

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_