Despite limited formal basketball training, a two plus year hiatus from the game, and an ocean of anticipation, Joel Embiid may prove to be better than the brochure.
Joel Embiid was touted as the purest basketball talent in the 2014 NBA Draft. But he was arriving injured, both to his back and to his foot. While not career ending, the outlook was risky enough to divert the first and second teams selecting in that draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected wingman Andrew Wiggins with the first pick of that draft. The Milwaukee Bucks selected forward Jabari Parker with the second pick of that same draft. To date, Wiggins has scored 3,062 points for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Parker has netted 1,378 points for the Bucks.
To date, Joel Embiid has netted no points in the regular season of the NBA. But that may change very soon, and very rapidly.
To be fair, the Cavaliers selected Wiggins and dealt him to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love. Wiggins has played, and started, 163 of the possible 164 games for the Wolves. Meanwhile Parker has followed a more traditional rookie track, playing in 101 and starting in just 97 of the possible 164 games.
Oct 11, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Just Getting Started
Joel Embiid has had neither a game started or played. But his preseason showing has demonstrated little in the way of rust or inexperience.
With 15 points tonight, Joel Embiid has scored 62 points in 85 minutes this preseason. That’s, uh, 26.3 points per 36 minutes. #theprocess
While it’s preseason, its truly the NBA now. NBA speed, NBA players, NBA pressure, NBA competition. So far, the only hold up on Embiid is his conditioning. He talked about the demands of his debut to the NBA with Sixers.com Brian Seltzer:
“I’m 200 percent. As far as game shape wise, I’m not 100-percent,” said Embiid, offering a realistic status report. “I still get tired. In practice, we’ve got to work on that. It’s starting to get easier, I’m starting to figure it out,” he said about playing at full-on game speed. “The game is becoming easy. It’s a little bit physical, which I’m getting used to, all the big bodies. It’s just starting to get easy for me.”
Oct 8, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers won 108-105. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Place the 85 minutes into perspective. The movie Captain America Civil War lasted 147 minutes, or more than an hour over the total playing time of Joel Embiid in the NBA.
Just 85 minutes.
85 minutes yielding 62 points, 33 rebounds, and a whole lot of defense. In fact, he is rated 93 on defense, a defense that should suffer when he finds himself defending a solid point guard like John Wall.
While many expected his forte to be on the defensive side of the ball initially, noone was prepared for the sheer athleticism of the young center. If basketball is heading towards positionless roles, then Joel Embiid is the man from the future. He has proven his versatility on both sides of the basketball court.
Can he keep up his current pace? Unlikely. But with minutes restrictions and alternating game appearances, he will be kept as fresh as possible as he builds up to the demands of the NBA 82 game season.
Oct 15, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives toward the net as Detroit Pistons center Boban Marjanovic (51) defends during the third quarter of the preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Pistons won 97-76. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Better Than What?
Joel Embiid has been envisioned to be the best of both Jahlil Okafor offensively and Nerlens Noel defensively. How does that translate into his rookie year? Well, we know offensively that Jahlil Okafor scored 17.5 points per game, and chipped in 7.0 rebounds per game, 1.15 blocks per game, and 1.2 assists per game on a average of 30 minutes playing time. Nerlens Noel in his rookie season averaged 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals and 9.9 points on 30.8 minutes per game.
The best of both would be 17.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals per 30 minutes, or 8.75 points, 4 rebounds, 1.0 block and .9 steals per 15 minutes of play.
So far, the young center is averaging 14.2 minutes of play. He is averaging 10.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and .2 steals. In his 85 minutes, he’s already beginning to show more than either of the previous two centers of the Philadelphia 76ers.
If he continues the pace of production and improvement, he clearly will be a leader of this team both offensively and defensively. In his rookie season, that jump to the lead of the team is the sign that Joel Embiid clearly is on track to challenge the ranks of the NBA elite to be included in their ranks.
Brown: “Joel (Embiid) is on track so far. What I’ve seen so far is we have great reason to be excited.”
And so, the possibility is fading and the reality is forming. This may not be a .500 season for the Philadelphia 76ers, but it could be a landmark season nevertheless. With the arrival of Embiid to the forefront of the team’s lineup, the dynamics of this team are changing each day.