For years Paul Pierce carried with him in and out of every arena the title of best Kansas basketball player in the NBA. Those days, obviously, are over, with Pierce playing seldom minutes off the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench in his 19th season.
KU coach Bill Self, though, has a pretty good idea who will start representing the Jayhawks in all-star games to come, now that Pierce won’t be able to add to his 10 career appearances.
During a recent airing of “Hawk Talk,” Self’s radio show with host Brian Hanni, the 14th-year Kansas coach said “possibly” twins Marcus and Markieff Morris could one day reach an all-star level. However, Self had another pair of his pupils in mind.
“But the reality is the best two shots we have to be perennial all-stars would be Jo (Joel Embiid), and of course Andrew (Wiggins),” the coach said.
Self shared he checks box scores daily to keep up with all the ’Hawks in the NBA. The coach couldn’t help but notice Philadelphia’s Embiid has a shot to join Wiggins as a Rookie of the Year from KU.
“I think it’d be great. I think Jo can definitely win it if he plays enough, you know. ’Cause he’s gonna end up averaging 20 and close to 10 — pretty good for a rookie,” Self said. “But the bottom line is are they gonna allow him to play enough to win an award that big.”
After Embiid missed two complete seasons due to serious complications with a foot injury, the Sixers have eased their 7-footer into the NBA grind. So far the 22-year-old phenom from Cameroon has looked the part of a future franchise cornerstone, and averaged 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while playing 23.5 minutes in 15 of Philly’s 23 games.
Though Self didn’t say it, Embiid actually is the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year, even with his minutes restrictions (currently up to 28 a game). The big man’s college coach claimed he doesn’t know what will happen with the rest of the season for the Sixers’ star in the making. But Self called his former center “smart” and improving, before providing some evidence.
“He threw a little temper tantrum when they took him out the other day ’cause he was over his minute limit and he couldn’t get a chance to play in overtime and he kicked the chair. But at least he kicked it with his good foot,” Self joked. “So, I mean, that was a positive.”
But seriously, folks. While many great college players have come and gone during Self’s tenure in Lawrence, he still thoroughly enjoys keeping up with the exploits of two players he barely spent any time coaching: his one-and-dones who became two of the top three picks in the 2014 draft.
Wiggins, now 22 games into his third year as a pro, is averaging a career-high 22.4 points and making 37.6% of his 3-pointers (also a personal best).
“To me it is so much fun watchin' those guys play, what they can do,” Self said. “Wiggs has had — he had 47. I mean 47 in an NBA game. Think about that. And then there were some games when he was here when, good gosh, it was like pullin’ teeth to get him to be aggressive enough to score double figures some games. But the light has come on with him. It’s so much fun to see.”
Thursday night in a nationally televised game against his hometown team of Toronto, the young Canadian scored 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting in a Minnesota loss.
While Wiggins at times still draws criticism for not asserting himself more consistently on the court, Self said Embiid doesn’t have that problem.
“Jo’s got a nasty streak to him,” Self explained. “I think that’s really gonna benefit him as far as when he gets totally turned loose and he can play 35 or 40 minutes a game… I mean, think about it: he’s averagin’ 20 a game and he’s only playin’ 22 minutes a game. I mean he’s capable of puttin' up some big numbers. So it’ll be fun for them to watch.”
Four of Philadelphia’s five victories have come on nights when Embiid plays. The organization continues to keep him from participating in both ends of back-to-back nights as the medical staff maintains a watchful eye on what looks to be the franchise’s most important player since Allen Iverson. The Sixers are 1-7 without Embiid and 4-11 with him in the lineup.
Thursday night in a Philly road win over Anthony Davis and New Orleans, Embiid put up 14 points, 4 blocks and 7 rebounds. His swat on a Davis drive to the basket reminded everyone who saw it of just how dominant the 22-year-old big could one day become.
As obvious as Embiid’s and Wiggins’ talents are, Self didn’t stop there when discussing marquee Kansas players for The Association. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Self expects another Jayhawk entering the NBA ranks to make some lucky franchise better, following the 2017 draft.
“And then Josh (Jackson) is gonna get drafted high. Hopefully Josh can play himself into that, as well,” Self said of attaining all-star status.