Joel Embiid instant fan favorite in Philly, where he scored 20 in debut
The future has arrived. Joel Embiid made his official NBA debut Wednesday night and did not disappoint.
After two full seasons of watching from the sidelines and rehabbing foot injuries, the 7-foot-2 phenom dazzled on his Philadelphia launch date, the 2016-17 regular-season home opener.
Embiid scored 20 points, grabbed, seven rebounds, blocked two shots — while playing just 22 minutes — and left the 76ers’ fans dreaming about the greatness ahead for the 22-year-old center, who heard chants of “Trust The Process” and “MVP” directed his way during a couple of trips to the free-throw line, where he went 7-for-8.
The young big man, who looked the part of a franchise centerpiece, did miss 10 shots, going 6-for-16. But remember: this was his very first real NBA game (no offense, preseason) and Embiid played on a minutes restriction. Sixers coach Brett Brown started him, but stuck to playing the former Kansas standout in four- to five-minute shifts — according to the organization’s strategy for easing their valuable young asset back onto the floor, in hope of avoiding another major injury setback. Between the newness of competing at that level, dealing with pesky Oklahoma City big man Steven Adams and frequently subbing out of the game, Embiid handled it all quite well.
"I try to make it a regular day," Embiid told The Inquirer before the game, during a session with reporters. "It's hard. You think what you've gone through the past two years, the loss of my brother and having to get another surgery and all of the ups and downs."
None of those factors appeared to bother him once the nationally televised game began. Fittingly, Embiid’s first pro bucket came on a move that highlighted his crafty footwork and soft shooting touch. After catching the ball at the top of the key, the big man dribbled toward the foul line, gave a shoulder fake one direction, pivoted away from his defender and drained a smooth fall-away jumper.
Even though Philadelphia lost to Oklahoma City, 76ers fans fell in love with their new big, who showcased a borderline ludicrous face-up game for a man his size, blocked Russell Westbrook — like THE Russell Westbrook — on a drive to the rim and even knocked down a 3-pointer.
Afterward, Brown spoke glowingly of his center from Cameroon.
"For a city to be rewarded for a player that we all understand has special gifts," Brown said in The Inquirer’s recap, "and play like he played, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it."
And Thunder coach Billy Donovan didn’t hold back his praises of Embiid, either.
"He's hard to guard," Donovan said in Keith Pompey’s game story for The Inquirer. "He's herky-jerky. He's got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuwon in him."
Joel Embiid has arrived. And the scary thing for the rest of the NBA is he’s only going to get better.
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