About a week after signing a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, former Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. certainly has earned some opportunities to play at the sport’s highest level.
Selden made his NBA debut Tuesday — receiving a spot in the start lineup alongside the likes of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
In his debut, he missed a 3-pointer and made two of four free throws in 15 minutes. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Selden added three rebounds, an assist, a turnover and four fouls.
The next night, Wednesday, Selden — in another start — drained one of two 3-pointers while grabbing a steal and rebound in 13 minutes.
Undrafted last summer, Selden scored 18.5 points in 35 games in the NBA’s D-League. A former second-team all-Big 12 selection, Selden was shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range with the D-League’s Iowa Energy, adding 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
When Selden’s 10-day contract expires this weekend, the Pelicans could sign Selden to another 10-day contract or opt not to renew, which would likely send Selden back to the D-League.
His post-college plans didn’t go exactly how he hoped after Wayne Selden Jr. left Kansas a year early to turn pro, but more than eight moths after going un-drafted, it looks like the athletic guard is about to get his first crack at the NBA.
According to various reports around the league, including one from ESPN’s Marc Stein, New Orleans will sign Selden, who played in the preseason with Memphis and has spent his time since in the D-League, to a 10-day contract.
Passed over by the entire league at the 2016 NBA Draft, Selden had to toil with the Iowa Energy to earn a break. In 35 D-League games, the 6-foot-5 guard put up 18.5 points a night, while shooting 34.9% from 3-point range and contributing 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30.6 minutes.
“I feel like I’m close to being an NBA player,” Selden said in a feature interview for the D-League earlier this season. “I feel like I could be at that level.”
“Instead of going overseas,” he added, “I feel like I should stay here and achieve that goal.”
In a D-League highlight package from January, Selden can be seen handling the ball in transition to go get a layup, pulling up for a successful 15-foot jumper, elevating over his man on the perimeter for a smooth 3-pointer, attacking his man to get contact before putting back his own miss, finishing high off the glass in traffic and penetrating to the paint before burying a fade-away jumper.
Those skills, along with Selden’s passing and explosive finishing ability, no doubt inspired New Orleans to give the 22-year-old a shot. In seven games since making the biggest trade of the season, adding DeMarcus Cousins to pair with Anthony Davis in their frontcourt, the Pelicans have lacked a true shooting guard in their starting lineup. Hollis Thompson, more of a small forward, has filled that 2-guard role, with combo guard E’Twaun Moore coming in off the bench.
New Orleans also just added Jordan Crawford, a scoring guard, from the D-League, so clearly the organization is looking for some depth on the perimeter. Coach Alvin Gentry even played Crawford 20 minutes in his Pelicans debut Monday night, proving the coach doesn’t mind throwing a new addition straight into the rotation. Although, Crawford’s 19 points and three 3-pointers in a narrow loss to Utah could give the fifth-year veteran a real head start on Selden for playing time.
Selden said earlier this year he was in the D-League to optimize his chances at achieving a lifelong goal.
“Every time you’re on that court it’s an opportunity to be better,” Selden said. “It’s an opportunity for a new person to see.”
Now the young guard with a 6-10.5 wingspan has an even larger lease on his professional future staring him in the face.
The move to New Orleans also reunites Selden with Kansas teammate Cheick Diallo, who also has spent time in the D-League this year. With the Pelicans, the 20-year-old rookie project has appeared in just 10 games — only one of the last 19 — and has averaged 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 9.6 minutes.
With Cousins and Davis, the Pelicans definitely don’t need Diallo right now. But they just might need Selden, as they hope to claw their way toward the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. New Orleans (25-39) is 4.5 games back of Denver (29-34) for the final postseason slot, and also would have to leapfrog Sacramento, Minnesota, Dallas and Portland over the course of the final 18 games of the season to reach the playoffs.
Since the NBA began handing out Rookie of the Year awards back in 1953, no winner has played in fewer than 50 games during the season in which he won it. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid just might turn out to be the first.
As many anticipated, following the Sixers’ announcement earlier this week the rookie big man from Kansas would indefinitely be held out of games due to soreness and swelling in his left knee, the organization amended its stance Wednesday, saying Embiid won’t play in any of Philadelphia’s remaining 23 games.
In a release regarding Embiid’s status, the team announced an MRI on Monday came with positive and negative results: the bone bruise on his left knee had improved significantly, while the meniscus tear appeared “more pronounced” than in a previous scan.
The news set off a number of Embiid-centric discussions within the NBA universe — including questions about his longterm health, which won’t have definitive answers anytime soon. Another intriguing debate is whether Embiid could or should win Rookie of the Year, despite playing in only 31 games of an 82-game season.
True, Embiid will finish the year having appeared in only 38 percent of the 76ers’ outings, but when he did take the court the results were incredible. The 22-year-old from Cameroon averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, blocked 2.5 shots a game and made 36 of 98 3-pointers (36.7%), all while playing only 25.4 minutes a night, due to the minutes restrictions the organization rightfully placed on him.
Embiid’s per-36 minute scoring numbers are among the best in the entire league — not just rookies. In per-36 points per game, only Russell Westbrook (32.3), Isaiah Thomas (30.9) and DeMarcus Cousins (29.1) rank ahead of Philadelphia’s franchise player (28.7).
As pointed out by Basketball Reference, Embiid (24.2 PER this season) is one of only seven players in league history to average at least 25 minutes a game and register a Player Efficiency Rating better than 24. The others on that list include Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. All of the names on the short index except Embiid’s currently can be found in the hall of fame.
Embiid’s case for Rookie of the Year only looks stronger when comparing his abbreviated season to those of his competition. NBA TV’s “The Starters” examined Embiid’s chances, and it’s difficult to come away as impressed with other contenders, such as his Philly teammate Dario Saric, new Sacramento King Buddy Hield, Denver’s Jamal Murray or Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.
None of those players will be able to drastically improve their numbers in the coming weeks enough to sniff Embiid’s production, but the fact that they will have played far more minutes and games could allow someone like Saric or Brogdon into the conversation in the minds of voters.
In NBA history, only Patrick Ewing (50 of 82 games in 1985-86) and Brandon Roy (57 of 82 in 2006-07) have been named the league’s top rookie after missing a significant chunk of games.
But Embiid’s wow-factor and the lack of comparable competition just might enable the charismatic big to make history.
Of course, the Sixers ultimately don’t care if Embiid attains that hardware. They just hope his growing injury history doesn’t derail what has the potential to be an extraordinary career.
"Our primary objective and focus remains to protect his long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. "As our medical team and performance staff continue their diligence in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of Joel's injury, we will provide any pertinent updates when available."
The NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in November, December and January, Joel Embiid’s February came and went without him playing in a single game for Philadelphia. What’s more, at this point, it’s unclear if he’ll be back on the court in March or April.
The former Kansas star who sat out two full NBA seasons after the Sixers drafted him third overall in 2014, due to complications with a fracture in his right foot, last played on Jan. 27. Embiid looked good, too, going for 32 points and 7 rebounds, while shooting 4-for-6 on 3-pointers against Houston.
However, the rookie sensation from Cameroon has missed 14 games since due to a left knee injury, and Philadelphia announced Monday the the center and presumed Rookie of the Year favorite is out “indefinitely.”
As Keith Pompey reported for Philly.com, Embiid first injured his knee Jan. 20, against Portland, leading him to miss the following three games with what was characterized as a bone bruise. The 7-foot-2 phenom played one game a week later before the team shut him down, after finding he had a slightly torn meniscus in the knee.
The 22-year-old face of the franchise was expected to return to the lineup following the all-star break, but that never happened due to swelling and soreness in Embiid’s knees when he practiced.
A clearer picture of the rookie’s immediate future could come soon, with the results of an MRI from Monday. So far, Embiid has played in 31 of Philly’s 59 games, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes.
The organization took a cautious approach with the injury-prone big man, restricting his minutes and keeping him out of one side of games on back-to-back nights. Still, Embiid proved to be a borderline all-star and immediate fan favorite in Philadelphia before his latest setback.
“The luck he's had with injuries, you have to feel really bad for him," 76ers point guard T.J. McConnell told Philly.com. "But his health is most important. I would rather him get healthy and be able to play and try to risk it more.”
With only 23 games remaining and Philadelphia (22-37) not in position to contend for the playoffs, Embiid missing the remainder of his rookie season seems like a legit possibility. The Sixers already have ruled their No. 1 overall pick from 2016, Ben Simmons, out for the year with a foot injury, and they just traded another former lottery pick, Nerlens Noel.
All signs points to the Sixers mailing it in for the next couple of months — or, to put it another way, “Trusting the Process.”
While missing out on Embiid highlights until next season might be tough for Philly fans to swallow, a cautionary approach that allows the franchise player to fully heal his knee would be best for him and the team.
Let’s say Embiid doesn’t play again this season. The Sixers lose like its their job and thereby increase their chances of getting a high draft choice in what is considered a strong 2017 class. Depending on how things shake out with the lottery, Philly could add a pair of top-five picks to go with Embiid and Simmons for next season — if the Los Angeles Lakers’ pick falls out of the top three, it goes to the Sixers thanks to a trade.
By now, 76ers fans know all about patience. It could finally pay off next year, particularly if the team can pair Embiid and Simmons with a couple of big-time prospects — such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, KU’s Josh Jackson, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Duke’s Jayson Tatum or Kentucky’s Malik Monk.
There is no good reason in the short-term or long-term for Philadelphia to rush Embiid back to the court. You want to see the amazing big man play for years to come, and the more talent that surrounds him the more enjoyable the future will be for the Sixers.
Mario Chalmers hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since he tore his right Achilles while playing for Memphis nearly a year ago. But the former Kansas star considers his return to the league imminent.
During a lengthy interview with The Summer Podcast this week, Chalmers, currently a free agent, revealed though he is still grinding through a lengthy and challenging rehab process, he’s now close to 100 percent.
“I really think by the end of this month,” Chalmers said, “I’ll be back to that old Rio.”
The 30-year-old guard who helped Miami win championships in 2012 and 2013 couldn’t say the same a couple weeks back, when he worked out for Cleveland, home of his former Heat teammate, LeBron James.
Reflecting on that recent experience, Chalmers thought it went well, and said he shot the ball better in three-on-three and four-on-four situations than in drills. When Cavaliers general manager David Griffin asked him how his ankle and heel felt, Chalmers told his potential employer he could maintain and give Cleveland what it needed.
“But,” Chalmers recalled adding, “ I don’t feel like I’d be me. I don’t feel like I would be the Rio that was in Memphis and how I was able to rock like that.”
At the time, Chalmers explained, he didn’t have his full confidence or flexibility completely back. However, he now feels better than he has since tearing his Achilles March 9, 2016, at Boston.
Since then, the eight-year NBA veteran has worked toward his return, even though he couldn’t even get in a gym and put up shots for several months.
Chalmers said shortly after suffering the devastating injury, which he wouldn’t wish on his “worst enemy,” Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant reached out to him via text message.
“This is probably going to be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life,” Chalmers recalled of Bryant’s message. “But I’ve seen you play and I know your personality and I know you form (Dwyane) Wade. If anybody can do this, you can do it.”
The words of encouragement came out of the blue form someone Chalmers considered the greatest player he ever faced, and he said the message helped direct him toward a grueling recovery.
So far, Chalmers only has worked out for Cleveland — he said his former team, Memphis, watched him in person earlier in the process to see where he was at.
“We’ll see what’s next,” Chalmers said. “I just want an opportunity. This is my first time being without basketball for this long. I’ve been playing basketball since I was two.”
Chalmers’ entire interview with The Summer Podcast covers an array of topics, including why things soured for him in Miami, playing high school ball in Alaska, how he ended up at KU and slipping into the second round of the NBA Draft after leaving Kansas a year early.
Fans of Chalmers and/or the Jayhawks will get a kick out of the stories he shares, which include the former KU guard’s accounts of some not-safe-for-work motivational speeches Bill Self delivered during Chalmers’ time in Lawrence.
Although Chalmers explains he grew up dreaming of playing at North Carolina, he is grateful for what he picked up under Self’s guidance — even if the KU coach challenged his manhood along the way.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Chalmers said of Self. “He puts his players first. He don’t care about anybody’s ego or if you’re the best man or the worst man. He’s gonna treat you like you were supposed to be the star player regardless.”
A couple months back, the Washington didn’t look like a playoff team. The Wizards dropped eight of their first 10 games, leading many to assume they would flounder and miss the postseason for a second straight year.
However, few teams in the NBA are as hot as Washington these days, and first-year head coach Scott Brooks says former Kansas star Markieff Morris has as much to do with the turnaround as anyone on the roster.
In an interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Brooks explained how Morris became much more of a consistent force for the Wizards recently. The way the former Oklahoma City coach remembers it, Brooks let Morris know at halftime of one poor outing (he thinks it was against Philadelphia about a month ago) that the starting power forward wasn’t giving the team everything it needed from him.
Perhaps Brooks could’ve grabbed Morris’s attention earlier, considering the 6-foot-10 stretch-4 averaged 12.4 points in November and 12.7 in December, but Brooks wanted to establish a strong relationship with his players and have them understand his approach as the team’s new coach before hitting them with anything drastic.
By mid-January, Brooks felt comfortable letting Morris know it was time for a change.
“I think the game is supposed to be played in a fun way. But to me ‘fun’ is playing hard and competing and clawing and doing whatever it takes within the rules to try and beat your opponent,” Brooks said on The Lowe Post. “That, to me, is fun. And if I see that it’s below the level that we need to be at, I tell you — whether you’re John Wall or Bradley (Beal) or Kieff or somebody that doesn’t play as much.
“Your job is to go in there and compete, and … I know that (Morris) has that in him, and I tell you what, he has been playing, like I said, out of his mind,” Brooks added. “We’re not in this position right now if it wasn’t for him.”
Morris caught his coach’s message and reacted by improving his overall play. Over the past four weeks, the sixth-year veteran is averaging 18.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
The Wizards (33-21) have won 14 of their last 16 games and are holding steady as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, only 2.5 games back of Boston for the No. 2 spot and 5 games behind defending champion Cleveland.
From a production standpoint, Morris has made much greater of an impact by giving Washington more from beyond the arc. A 32.9-percent career 3-point shooter, Morris only connected on 30.6 percent of his 3s in November, and that number plummeted to 22.7 percent in December. In January, Morris nailed 41.4 percent from downtown. In five February games, he’s 8-for-22 — 6-for-9 in the past two D.C. wins, which included a 23-point performance in a blowout versus Oklahoma City.
“I met with him early in the season,” Brooks told Lowe, “like a month in, I said, ‘You’ve got something that a lot of guys don’t have.’ And he says, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You can post up and take smaller guys at the block, but you also have the ability to take, to shoot 3s.’ But, I said, ‘You don’t want to take ’em for some reason. You’d rather take 17-footers, one-dribble pull-ups.’ I said, ‘That game is becoming dinosaurs, and if you’re gonna do that, it’s gonna be hard for you to fulfill this career that you can potentially have.’
“And I tell you what, he has really challenged himself and I want him to shoot as many 3s as he can shoot. I think he should shoot five a game, but don’t take away his low post when he has a good matchup,” Brooks added.
Morris averaged 3.6 3-point tries a game in January, and has taken 4.4 a game from deep thus far in February.
The 27-year-old Morris, who now has been with Washington for the equivalent of a full season after being traded from Phoenix in February of 2016, told The Washington Post not long ago he and his teammates benefit offensively from the all-star play of their point guard, Wall.
“You see how easy it is when he gets to penetrating. He’s a great passer,” Morris said of the team’s star. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head, so we just got to get open.”
The Wizards haven’t been held below 100 points since the first week of January, and are 17-4 in that stretch with Wall carrying his team toward the top of the East standings.
“If we make shots, he’d have 20 assists every game,” Morris said. “He’s a great player, top point guard to me. He leads us and we just follow his footsteps.”
Of late, Brooks thinks Morris, like Wall, deserves credit for Washington’s resurgence.
“I love him,” the coach said of Morris. “I love how he’s playing. He’s fun to coach. I really think that we have a good team because of what he has done.”
Tarik Black only spent one season playing for Kansas, but he quickly became a fan favorite.
After leaving Memphis as a graduate transfer, Black played 13.5 minutes per game in his senior year, mostly playing behind Joel Embiid.
But since his time in Lawrence, Black has continued to maximize his opportunities from KU.
He recently earned his master’s degree in African-American studies from Kansas. According to a story from Marc J. Spears in The Undefeated, Black put in paperwork to start the Tarik Black Foundation, which he hopes will provide opportunities for inner-city youth in his hometown Memphis.
“I live life to be the role model that I always wanted,” Black said. “And if anybody can learn anything from my story, it is to take what you need, because I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve seen a lot and I won’t be bold enough to say I’ve seen everything. So I won’t ever sit and say that I don’t want anybody to ever mimic me, because a lot of people mimic people.”
In his third year in the NBA, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Black is averaging 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s played in 40 games, making three starts.
Black didn’t hear his name called during the 2014 NBA draft, but he’s carved out a role with his strength and hustle.
During his summer offseasons, Black was focused on finishing classes and earning his master’s degree. He told Spears that he chose African-American studies after finishing three points shy of passing the GRE General Test to enter business school. His mother used to work for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
“My dream and passion actually is doing nonprofit work in a city with so much history when it comes to civil rights leaders or slavery,” Black said. “And the Underground Railroad, Memphis was the main stop in it. So, being from a city like that, understanding the background and wanting to go back and work with inner-city youth, which is my true passion, it actually ended up being a blessing.”
Perhaps what made Black such a strong fan favorite was his positive attitude and ability to notice the big picture.
So it’s no surprise that Black has big plans once he’s done playing basketball.
“It took people helping me through it,” Black said. “People were there for me and my backbone, and carried me through it, locking me into getting it done. It feels wonderful to have that paperwork, especially in today’s world. A bachelor’s doesn’t mean much. It’s basically like a high school diploma. So, having a master’s, it means so much, especially to have the accolade as 24-year-old black man and to me personally.”
LeBron James isn’t happy with the state of Cleveland’s roster, what with the defending NBA champions going 7-8 in January. Perhaps adding a former Kansas basketball player to the mix will appease The King.
ESPN’s Chris Haynes reports a pair of free-agent Jayhawks, Mario Chalmers and Kirk Hinrich, will work out with the Cavaliers Wednesday.
James last week went public with his concerns about the team’s lack of depth, stating the Cavaliers need another experienced play-maker. Chalmers, who tore his right Achilles while playing with Memphis in March of 2016, long served as a role player on James’ championship teams in Miami. The 30-year-old guard has spent the past several months rehabbing, with the possibility of pouncing on this type of mid-season opportunity in mind.
Unlike Hinrich, who played sparingly for Chicago and Atlanta during the 2015-16 season, Chalmers remained a key contributor when last he appeared in the NBA. Though Miami had moved on from the former KU standout, he thrived in Memphis as a backup guard in a scoring role.
In 55 games with the Grizzlies before suffering a season-ending injury, Chalmers averaged 10.8 points and 3.8 assists in just 22.8 minutes off the bench, while shooting 41.7% from the floor and 32.6% from 3-point range.
How close his Achilles is to 100 percent, only Chalmers knows, but this will give him a chance to prove he can still make plays in the league. And if Cleveland decides to sign Chalmers, it would give him a chance to help the Cavs chase another championship.
ESPN reports Lance Stephenson and other free agents will attend the workout, too, as the organization looks to fill an empty roster spot and give James and company some bench support.
Hinrich, now 36, played a career-low 13.7 minutes last season and didn’t generate much interest in free agency this past summer — when teams had to pass on Chalmers because he was just a few months removed form a major knee injury.
In 11 games with Atlanta last season, Hinrich only played 6.9 minutes a game and made just 2 of his 11 shot attempts while contributing mostly at practices and behind the scenes.
Just 26, Stephenson might have two young legs up on Chalmers and Hinrich. A year ago, he too proved productive in Memphis, averaging 14.2 points and 2.8 assists. Stephenson signed with New Orleans before the current season began, but didn’t stick after playing just six games.
As long as Chalmers is healthy, odds are he’ll find a spot with a playoff team in the weeks ahead, even if Cleveland goes another direction. He has championship experience and is mature enough to fit in with a new group and take on whatever role is handed to him.
Hinrich, of course, would be a fine addition to any team’s culture and structure. The question for him is whether his body will still allow him to make plays against much younger competition.
One of the more popular young players in the NBA, Philadelphia rookie center Joel Embiid didn’t take it too personally when the league’s coaches failed to select him as one of seven reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
While the fans gave Embiid the third-most votes among East frontcourt players — the former Kansas big man trailed only superstar LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — Chicago’s Jimmy Butler took the third frontcourt starting spot, with the support of player and media votes. The coaches chose Cleveland’s Kevin Love, Indiana’s Pual George and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap for the East’s backup bigs and forwards.
“A little disappointed,” Embiid said of his reaction to being left off the team, while speaking with reporters Friday in Philadelphia. “A lot of guys that made it deserved it, and I’m young, so I’m gonna get a lot of chances, so I’m not (too) disappointed.”
Asked if he could use the snub as motivation, though, the 22-year-old center stated his case for why he should’ve become the league’s first rookie all-star since Blake Griffin, in 2011.
“I thought I deserved it,” said Embiid, who in 30 games for the 76ers is averaging 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists, while playing 25.3 minutes. “You know, not that I care about my stats, but that’s one of the points that could’ve been proven. But I think the thing was the minutes, which I didn’t understand. If you average that many points in 24, 25 minutes, I don’t know. That should be the case. But, like I said, I’m not disappointed. I’m happy for those guys.”
As Embiid referenced, his relative lack of minutes played in comparison to his colleagues chosen as all-stars by the coaches likely made the difference in the debate. Love, George and Millsap all have played in more games this season and spent less time on the bench than Embiid in those starts. Based on clocking in and clocking out, they’ve put in more game work than the rookie this season, and that means a lot to coaches.
Embiid did have some good news, though, after sitting out of the Sixers’ previous three games, in part because of a left knee bruise.
“I’m feeling good. My knee’s feeling great,” the 7-foot-2 phenom from Cameroon reported.
So are Embiid’s teammates, because, unlike in recent seasons, the 76ers are actually competitive. The young face of the franchise said the energy around the organization has been “amazing” of late, with Philly winning eight of its last 10, and even picking up two victories in his absence.
“My job here is kind of like to change the culture,” Embiid said. “The Sixers, the past three years, people have said that they’re trying to tank or whatever, but that wasn’t the case. Now we’re proving that we’re trying to win, trying to make the playoffs and I think we’ve got a pretty good chance. So my job here is kind of like to bring the excitement back to the city and just change the culture.”
Philadelphia (17-27) enters Friday’s nationally televised game against Houston 4.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Beaten out by sixth-year Chicago veteran Jimmy Butler for the final frontcourt starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team last week, rookie NBA sensation Joel Embiid will learn Thursday night whether the league’s coaches have voted him onto the team as a reserve.
Seven roster spots remain — with two slotted for guards, three for frontcourt players and two more for wild cards — and the inevitable 2017 Rookie of the Year has a legitimate shot at becoming an all-star in his debut season with Philadelphia, following a torturous two-year wait due to Embiid’s foot fracture.
The NBA announced last week the top-10 vote-getters at each position, per the composite point system that took into account where players ranked among fans, players and media members. If the league still mandated a center had to be represented in the starting lineup — which it did until 2013 — Embiid would be starting. The 7-foot-2 pivot from Cameroon received more votes than any other East center. What’s more, the former Kansas standout ranked third overall among East forwards and bigs in fan votes, getting more love than Kevin Love, so if the NBA hadn’t altered its voting process before this season to include players and media, he would be starting.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Embiid suffered a left knee bruise this past Friday in a Sixers victory over Portland and has been held out of the lineup to heal. He is expected to return Friday versus Houston.
As pointed out by Keith Pompey of Philly.com, the 76ers are 3-10 without their smiling face of the franchise on the floor. When Embiid does play, the Sixers are 13-17 — this from an organization that has lost more than 75% of its games in each of the previous three seasons.
Of late, Philadelphia has thrived with its starting center on the floor, winning six straight and eight of its last nine with Embiid playing. In 30 games, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists in just 25.3 minutes. The big man is shooting 46.2% from the floor, 34.8% from 3-point range and 77.7% at the foul line.
Whether all those numbers add up to a rare rookie all-star selection — only 10 first-year players have made the cut since 1985 — is up to the NBA’s 30 head coaches.
ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy, while appearing recently on Zach Lowe’s The Lowe Post podcast, was blown away to hear the impact Embiid makes statistically when he’s available. The Sixers’ net rating (an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions) with Embiid on the floor currently stands at +14.7, per basketball-reference.com.
“He is the MVP of the year then,” Van Gundy joked. “No, it’s over. Like, (Russell) Westbrook, (James) Harden, forget it. Embiid is MVP, and I’ll start leading the chants if we do another Sixer game, because if that’s true, with the roster that he has around him, that’s an incredible accomplishment.”
If a coaching veteran like Van Gundy can be swayed by the numbers and overlook the time Embiid has missed due to the Sixers taking injury precautions and limiting his minutes and availability, perhaps the current head coaches can, as well.
As for Embiid’s competition at this point, Love, a veteran with great numbers on the East’s best team, is a virtual lock. So the Sixers’ flamboyant big man will have to contend with a contingent of other frontcourt players for the final two to four roster spots — the coaches could vote in four guards for the bench unit, leaving just three total spots for reserve forwards and bigs.
Here’s who Embiid figures to be up against: Indiana’s Paul George, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Atlanta’s Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker.
The Sixers depend upon Embiid more than any of his competitors’ teams need them, and the rookie big man’s Player Efficiency Rating ranks better than all of the other candidates in the discussion.
If Embiid doesn’t make it, you can likely ascribe that scenario to coaches preferring to give veterans their due or thinking the Sixers’ centerpiece hasn’t played enough games, compared to the other candidates — or all of the above.
No matter what the coaches decide, Embiid can book his flight to New Orleans for All-Star Weekend (Feb. 17-19), because he’ll be a headliner in the Rising Stars Challenge. And he just might join previously announced starters LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Butler and DeMar DeRozan on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Good news for Embiid: the games aren’t on back-to-back nights. The Rising Stars game is Friday and the main event is Saturday. And no one plays that many minutes in all-star games.