Joel Embiid would like it if you forgot the number 31. And 51 for that matter.
Do the former Kansas center a favor, and don’t remember that he played in 31 games as a rookie for Philadelphia — and missed 51 in total, due to both his injury history and a new knee setback.
When picking the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, Embiid hopes those who voted exercised selective recall — overlooking those aforementioned numerals in favor of others attached with his first season in the NBA. Such as: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.
The 23-year-old phenom, whose past several years have been plagued with foot, back and knee damage, recently told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan he should win the award.
"I know people are saying about me, 'Oh, he only played 31 games.' But look at what I did in those 31 games — averaging the amount of points I did in just 25 minutes,” Embiid argued for his case.
Neither of the other candidates for the award, his Sixers teammate Dario Saric and Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon, dominated in the fashion Embiid did. But they did play the bulk of the 82-game schedule, so voters will not as much reward them for that as count Embiid’s relative lack of appearances against him.
Had Embiid come along in another year, under the same circumstances, it would be easy to select some other promising rookie ahead of him. But because there was no Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns type making his NBA debut in 2016-17, Embiid is likely to still get some love as the top rookie. If there were a category for mesmerizing on-court moments, Embiid would blow away the competition —Saric, Brogdon and the rest of the rookie class combined. Some who voted for the award must have come back to that while processing their decision.
The votes are in. A rookie of the year already has been selected. We just won’t know the results until, June 26, when it’s announced at the league’s inaugural NBA Awards Show.
Embiid told MacMullan his production when healthy should count for something.
“Even going back to the All-Star Game, I didn't get chosen for that, and people were killing me because I didn't play 30 minutes a game,” Embiid said. “But here's what I don't understand: If I put up those numbers in less time than another guy, what's the difference? Doesn't it mean I did more in less time? Wait until I play as many minutes as those guys, then you will see what I do.”
Of course, we’ll have to sit tight until next season to see more of Embiid. At least early reports on his health are promising. Before the 76ers shut down their franchise center for the season, the team feared he had fully torn the meniscus in his left knee. However, Embiid was flexing his surgically-repaired leg with no pain during his interview with ESPN.
“It really turned out to be nothing,” he said, “just a small, little thing. So that's very good."
Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, even went as far as to predict playing on back-to-back nights won’t be an issue for Embiid next season.
Currently in the early stages of rehabbing, Embiid said his summer plans revolve around strengthening both legs, so he holds up better over the course of his second year of playing.
"I realize I have to take better care of myself," the big man from Cameroon said. "I didn't realize how good I could be. Especially seeing what I accomplished this year ... I want to keep on getting better."
Sixers head coach Brett Brown, like many, looks forward to the day when Embiid can just exist as a regular player, in terms of his availability. Brown recently spoke with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski about the challenges associated with his most talented player only functioning in limited stints.
“I always felt that he was on lend. We couldn’t really practice him, he had multiple minute restrictions, he couldn’t play sometimes back-to-backs,” Brown said, before commending Embiid for handling it all relatively well.
“Because he is so highly competitive — it’s the single quality of Joel Embiid that I’m most attracted to; he is just fiercely competitive — then that became a challenge,” the coach explained. “He didn’t want to hear it. He wants to play.”
Ultimately, the flashes of greatness their center displayed, Brown said, made it clear he was the type of talent who could turn around the struggling franchise.
As an example, the coach pointed to an early possession in what proved to be Embiid’s final game of his shortened season. The center had just missed a week before returning to the lineup. Playing with an injured left knee, Embiid had a chance out of a pick-and-pop versus Houston to either shoot a 3-pointer — he made 36-for-98 (36.7%) on the year — or drive it.
Brown recalled the savage result following one dribble on the catch-and-go move by Embiid:
“Truly violent. He could’ve ripped the backboard down. And you step back and you say, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ It’s a reminder just how he thinks and plays. There is zero backdown to Joel Embiid. Now wrap that up in 7-foot-2 and a skill package as we’ve seen at 275 pounds, well, you’ve got something quite unique.”
Now that Embiid and the Sixers organization have seen exactly what he’s capable of producing when in the lineup, figuring out the best strategies for keeping him healthy remain critical.
“That is the crown jewel,” Brown said. “That is our difference-maker. He is completely unique. And even in those borrowed-time moments, he gave enough example for all of us to recognize that he’s extremely special.”
Maybe voters remembered those 31 games and counted the 51 missed against Embiid. But the true hope is a Rookie of the Year Award — whether won by him for being the most impressive first-year player, or someone else by default — will long be forgotten by the end of a lengthy, prolific career.
Wayne Selden Jr., only experienced 14 regular-season games as an un-drafted rookie, but the former Kansas guard on Thursday night didn’t let a much larger stage keep him from delivering his first NBA Playoffs moment.
With Memphis on its way to putting away Western Conference juggernaut San Antonio in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Selden came through with an electrifying slam reminiscent of his days with the Jayhawks.
A late-season addition for the Grizzlies, Selden’s duties on offense typically involve hanging out in either corner, behind the 3-point line as his veteran teammates such as Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph go to work. But the 6-foot-5 wing saw his chance late versus the Spurs to prove he could be more than a warm body and defender.
After catching the ball on the left wing with Memphis up 20 and well on its way to cutting the Spurs’ series lead to 2-1, Selden looked to throw an entry pass to Randolph before realizing that would be a bad idea. With Z-Bo occupying his post defender, Selden went to work on his man, Kyle Anderson.
Selden drove hard toward the left baseline, getting an angle on Anderson. Once he had his man beat, the rookie rose up for a wicked, one-handed slam.
In just his 17th NBA game — third postseason affair — Selden gave the Grizzlies, playing without injured Tony Allen, 10 points, 2 boards and an assist. He shot 4-for-9 from the floor, 2-for-4 on 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over.
In his first two playoff games combined, both at San Antonio, Selden totaled just two successful field goals on 10 tries while playing as a fill-in starter for Allen.
The 22-year-old newbie felt much better about his Game 3 showing, particularly the highlight slam.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Selden said in a postgame interview with FOX Sports Southeast. “It’s that boost for the team, gets the team going, pumps energy into the crowd. It’s just good for the team.”
Though he didn’t start at Memphis Thursday, Selden played 28 minutes off the bench and provided the home team with a spark.
“We just wanted to come out and be aggressive,” Selden said following a 105-94 win. “Whoever was out there had to play their minutes hard. You get tired, somebody else comes in.”
Considering he spent most of the season in the D-League and made his NBA debut with New Orleans, Selden’s contributions — while not massive — are rather remarkable. He made his Memphis debut March 18 and now he’s finding spots to make an impact in the playoffs.
Game 4 of Spurs-Grizzlies is Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN).
Among the 16 former Kansas players active in the NBA during the 2016-17 regular season — henceforth known as the dawn of The Joel Embiid Era — only six get a crack at the spotlight known as The Playoffs.
For those Jayhawks fans in search of a team to follow in the postseason, look no further than the Washington Wizards.
The Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed utilizes two former Bill Self players — starter Markieff Morris and backup Kelly Oubre Jr. — in its rotation.
Morris, a sixth-year power forward, isn’t the face of the franchise by any means — that moniker belongs to point guard John Wall. But those in the Wizards locker room will argue the 27-year-old Morris is as important as anyone this spring, as Washington tries to make a deep run in the East.
The 27-year-old former Kansas standout put up 20 points in each of his final two regular-season appearances. As detailed by CSN Mid-Atlantic, Morris’ production tied in with the team’s success throughout the year, so the Wizards expect plenty out of him as they open a first-round series with Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Check out Morris’ splits in D.C. wins and losses, as referenced by CSN:
Played in 45 of 49 wins. In those games, Morris shot 39.1% from 3-point range and made 48% of his shots overall.
In 31 losses he played in, Morris shot 32.1% on 3-pointers and only 42.3% overall.
“When he makes 3s, we’re a different team and I’ve told him that," first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. "I’d like him to take four to five threes if he’s there in a rhythm, he’s comfortable and his feet are set. He can make those at a 40-something percent clip. … I’m glad it’s starting to come back. He had a stretch there it wasn’t falling for him but he didn’t stop working and it’s paying off.”
Even better news for Brooks, Morris and his teammates: now that the playoffs are here, the schedule isn’t as demanding and Morris (14.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds this season) has proven to be an efficient, productive scorer when rested. And there will be at least a two-day break between games in the playoffs.
More telling numbers from CSN:
On zero days rest (15 times), Morris shot 41.8% overall and 31.6% from 3.
On one day of rest (42 times), Morris shot 43.8% overall and 32.3% from 3.
On two days of rest (11 times), Morris shot 52.2% overall and 46.7% from 3.
On three days of rest (five times), Morris shot 56.9% overall and 50% from three.
As for Oubre, a key sub and perimeter defender — the 6-7 wing closed the last couple weeks of his second season averaging 10.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in April (though he only made 38.6% of his field goals and 25% of his 3-pointers).
The up-and-coming 21-year-old recently received a glowing review from one of the league’s elite players, Golden State’s Kevin Durant:
“Some of these young cats that come into the league, they got super confidence, uber-confidence, and they just go through the motions, where they’re just too cool, you know what I’m saying? But he had a little — he had some dog in him,” Durant said of Oubre while speaking on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “He might foul you hard. That’s how I know, actually, if young guys they really want it. They’ll foul you hard and play physical. I was playing with him and he’d foul me hard, and I’m like, ‘I like that. I like that you care.’ Because a lot of these cats don’t care about the game.”
Other KU players to watch
Wayne Selden Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
He’s by far the least experienced NBA player on their roster, but the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies might actually need the youthful legs of Wayne Selden Jr., versus West power San Antonio — in a best-of-seven series that begins Saturday.
First-year head coach David Fizdale recently explained Selden’s worth to The Commercial Appeal.
“He can play. I wasn’t giving out charity minutes. He was balling,” Fizdale said. “The kid is built for the league. He’s got a great two guard’s body. He reminds me a lot of Dwyane Wade from a body standpoint (with) big shoulders. And he knows how to play. He’s got an IQ about him. We’re just going to work hard to develop him and see where it takes us, but I really like what I’m seeing so far.”
After going un-drafted and making his NBA debut with New Orleans, Selden caught on with Memphis late in the season and has played in all of 11 games for the Grizzlies.
Though he likely won’t play as much in the postseason — unless all the games are out of reach — Selden averaged 27.5 minutes in the Grizzlies’ final six games, averaging 8.2 points, 2.0 assists and shooting 42.9% from the floor.
The rest of the Jayhawks
Only a handful of games remain in Paul Pierce’s storied career, so get a glimpse of him while you can in his brief reserve minutes, as the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers face Utah, beginning Saturday night.
Nick Collison barely plays any more for the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, but at least you can see his reactions as MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden square off. Houston vs. OKC tips off Sunday night. Who knows, the offseason could mark the end of Collison’s 13-year career, as well. Here’s what he said on the mater to The Oklahoman:
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Collison said of his future. “All season long, I’ve said I’m gonna wait until the season’s over and figure that stuff out, so I’m holding to that; the season’s not over yet.”
- Playing behind one of the league’s top defensive players, center Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey doesn’t get a lot of run with fifth-seeded Utah. The 7-foot shot-blocker who starred at Kansas averaged 2.9 points and 2.4 boards in 8.5 minutes in his fourth NBA season. Look for him in spurts against the Clippers and Pierce, in a series that could go seven games.
Now that the New Orleans Pelicans are out of the playoff race in the NBA’s Western Conference, the organization has been willing to give second-round draft choice Cheick Diallo a longer look before the regular season concludes this week.
Playing more than 10 minutes for just the fourth time all season this past weekend in a Pelicans loss to Golden State, Diallo put up seven points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes. But a great deal of the former Kansas big man’s work and development over the past several months occurred in much smaller D-League arenas with far fewer people paying attention.
As detailed in The Advocate, Diallo, a 20-year-old native of Mali, experienced seven different stints in the D-League during his rookie season with New Orleans, suiting up for three different minor league teams: the Austin Spurs, Long Island Nets and Greensboro Swarm.
With only two games left in the NBA season, Diallo has played just 15 times for the Pelicans, because the team didn’t need a raw, 6-foot-9 project on the floor when it had bigs such as Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins to eat up minutes and man the paint. Rather than letting Diallo accumulate rust as an end-of-the-bench forward, the Pelicans kept their slim, athletic backup active with trips to the D-League, with experience and development in mind. You may recall Diallo only played 202 minutes in 27 games for Kansas, so he needed all the game reps he could get.
“I just know the D-Leagues helped me a lot and it would help anyone a lot,” Diallo told The Advocate, while discussing his many trips back and forth from New Orleans to at times less glamorous locales. “I needed to play games. And some of it was better than other teams, but it was good for me. And everyone here tells me I’m too young to say I’m tired. So I’m not tired.”
It was in his most recent 15-game stretch that Diallo displayed the talent that many hoped he would bring to KU in his one-and-done 2015-16 season. The young power forward said he felt most comfortable playing for Greensboro, and he averaged 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds.
New Orleans general manager Dell Demps told The Advocate it was important Diallo bought in to the franchise’s plan for him.
“Some guys want to skip steps, and he doesn’t. He wants to play. There were times when we wanted him around the team for practice purposes and he would bring an energy we really liked,” Demps said. “It was a combination of him getting minutes and practicing with our team so he could learn the system and gain familiarity with our team.”
When Diallo wasn’t practicing with the big boys, he was honing his craft with lower-level affiliates. Chris Reichert, who writes about the D-League at FanSided.com, recently detailed how the Pelicans took a low-risk gamble drafting the energetic big early in the second round and now can begin to see it paying off. Playing more than he had since his high school days Diallo, Reichert details, was able to stretch the floor a little with his 2-point jumpers and use his athleticism and eye-popping 7-foot-4.5 wingspan on both ends of the floor, as well as in transition.
Though some young NBA players might have scoffed at spending so much time on a lesser stage, Diallo explained to The Advocate why he enjoyed his assignments.
“I just want to play, you know?” Diallo said. “I go to any place and I don’t even know the coaches or the players on some of these D-League teams. Then I play a few games and then I’m back with our team and practicing with (Davis) and coach (Kevin) Hanson. Sometimes I didn’t even know where I was, whether in North Carolina or Texas or wherever.”
Praised by the general manager for his progress and exceeding expectations, now Diallo’s head coach, Alvin Gentry, can try and determine just how much his rookie’s time in the D-League helped him by playing him late in the season at the highest level.
“I want to see him against some NBA competition to see if he’s grasped what we’re trying to do philosophically from an offensive standpoint and our defensive concepts,” Gentry said. “We want to try to take a look at him, to see exactly where he is.”
The Pelicans (33-47) close the regular season with two road games, before they’ll have another chance to further evaluate Diallo in a few months, at The Summer League.
Eventually, you just might see him making an impact in The Association, and if Diallo is able to do that, he’ll have his patience and work ethic to thank.
As has been the case throughout his professional career, since leaving Kansas to become the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson has spent far more of this, his fifth, season in the NBA as a spectator than he would like.
The Los Angeles Lakers, among the worst teams in the league, are more committed to giving minutes to young players they have on long contracts, so Robinson, who will again become a free agent in July, has only played in 43 of his team’s 77 games.
However, an injury to rookie 7-footer Ivica Zubac, whom the Lakers drafted at the top of the second round in 2016, has meant a recent leap for Robinson’s minutes. And the 26-year-old power forward hasn’t let the opportunity go to waste.
The 6-foot-10 backup big man scored in double figures for the third straight game on Sunday, in L.A.’s victory over Memphis. Robinson told reporters afterward — as seen in a video posted by LakersNation.com — he’s thankful coach Luke Walton has given him more chances of late.
“Now I can show all the aspects of my game,” Robinson said following a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in 20 minutes, “and it took a minute, but it’s here.”
Following a string of three consecutive DNP’s, Robinson scored 12 points at Minnesota, 16 points in a road game versus the Los Angeles Clippers and, following a 5-for-9 shooting effort against the Grizzlies, has shot 18-for-33 (55%) from the floor with an increased role in his past three games.
Robinson, who’s averaging 4.7 points in 11.1 minutes on the season, said getting more than a cameo has allowed him to prove he’s not one-dimensional.
“That I’m mobile. I’m not just a bruiser,” the former KU star said of what he has shown. “But with all due means I would take that definition and run with it for years. But I think there’s a little bit more to my game — not saying that’s what I want to be known as — just if you recognize it, respect it.”
Robinson spent much of his most recent strong showing grappling in the paint against veteran big body Zach Randolph.
“I’ll battle with anybody. I love it, though. Z-Bo’s like an old head to me,” Robinson said. “I’ve been watchin' his game for years and talkin’ to him throughout the years and he’s constantly tellin' me to keep pushin’.”
The late-season surge for Robinson really began when he poured in 16 points in 10 minutes on March 21, in a blowout loss to the Clippers.
“I don’t want to say I proved a point,” Robinson told The Orange County Register at the time. “But hopefully I showed I’m capable of performing at this level when I play.”
Currently suiting up for his sixth NBA franchise, Robinson told The Register the only thing he could do was prepare himself to perform.
“That’s all part of being a pro. That’s my job description this year,” Robinson added. “It’s to be ready whenever my name is called. It’s probably not called when I want. But that’s my job description. So I have to come in here and do it.”
Walton, the Lakers’ first-year head coach, praised Robinson’s approach.
“He’s been one of our hardest workers all year,” Walton said. “He made the team by how hard he worked.”
An NBA nomad, Robinson remains hopeful the impression he has made in L.A. will allow him to stick around beyond this season. He told The Register he would do “anything possible” to re-sign with the Lakers this summer.
“I would love to be here for a few years,” Robinson said. “Just be somewhere for a while.”
Little stood out about Kelly Oubre Jr.’s first year in the NBA. The first-round pick out of Kansas played sparingly for a middling team that missed the playoffs, despite much loftier expectations.
Rookie seasons are made to deliver hard lessons, though. Now Oubre has transformed himself into a much more reliable member of the Washington Wizards and has played a key part in the team’s climb toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
A year ago, Oubre revealed recently in an interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast, he just felt happy to be in the league. The 21-year-old now finds himself in a situation, under first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, where he has peace of mind and confidence, because he knows his performance is important to the Washington’s success.
The 6-foot-7 forward comes off the bench for the Wizards, and only averages 19.5 minutes and 5.9 points on the season. But Brooks needs Oubre’s defense, and the second-year wing often guards the opponent’s best wing — think: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc. But the athletic sub also has shown a capacity to help star D.C. guards John Wall and Bradley Beal out by defending smaller guards, such as Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.
“I think that’s something different that these teams aren’t used to,” Oubre said on Wizards Tipoff. “Just a 6-7 long defender coming out and guarding point guards, especially of the smaller caliber. It’s fun to me, man. It’s a challenge. Obviously these guys are great. These guys are good at what they do. And going out there and competing and trying to hold them from their average is something that I take pride in, man. I don’t want anybody to come in and let their best player just torch us.”
“And it’s fun to guard the other team’s best player,” Oubre added. “If it’s a point guard, if it’s s shooting guard, small forward, power forward — no matter what I want to guard him. My teammates give me that confidence to pretty much go out and guard anybody.”
Self-assured in all he does, even Oubre had to get a boost to his boldness last week upon scoring 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, with 7 rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes off the bench at Cleveland — a game Washington (46-29) won on the home floor of the NBA’s defending champions.
Oubre didn’t hesitate to call it his best game of the season.
“Defensively, offensively everything clicking and my teammates playing well all around,” Oubre said. “And just the energy that I brought that game I felt was like something that was one of the best games I’ve put together all around.”
As recently as a few weeks ago, this new-and-improved version of Oubre disappeared momentarily. In four games in early March, he played single-digit minutes and didn’t play at all on another occasion. Oubre said he realized then he just had to become more consistent in everything he did.
“I know my niche. I know what I need to do,” he said, “so I think I’m just growing and learning as a person and then Coach Brooks is doing a great job of molding me into the player I know I can become.”
Now a key backup for the No. 3 team in the East, Oubre has made a name for himself in NBA circles and wants to prove he is as an “ultimate professional.” It’s an approach he admits now he didn’t take in what he considers his worst game of the season, at Brooklyn in early February. Oubre started for fellow Jayhawk Markieff Morris that day, went scoreless in 33 minutes and “wasn’t a factor at all.” It’s a showing he won’t soon forget because it disappointed him greatly.
“That ---- won’t happen again,” Oubre said, calling it another lesson as he works toward becoming a more complete player.
The second-year pro feels fortunate Brooks has shown patience with him and allowed Oubre to learn and develop. In that same Cleveland game when he looked so good he also gambled defensively a couple of times and gave up 3-pointers to sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
“It’s just lesson learned,” Oubre said of such occasions. “I know it won’t happen again. Once I make one mistake I try not to let it happen twice. If I do let it happen twice, it won’t happen again for a fact.”
As a rookie, playing for a different coaching staff, Oubre didn’t get to experience the postseason. This spring, he and the Wizards are in position to host at least one round of the playoffs. After an awful 3-9 start to the year, Washington is surging (currently two games behind the Cavaliers and Boston for the No. 1 seed).
“The vibe is different. We want it all. We want everything people said we couldn’t have,” said Oubre, who has scored in double figures three straight games. “And we’re a team that’s not really gonna talk about it too much. We’re a team that’s gonna go out, put the work in and we’re gonna do it.”
— Listen to the entire podcast below.
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.