Hey, remember that guy who played basketball at Kansas with Joel Embiid a few years ago? Andrew Somethingorother, I think his name was. Canadian kid. What ever happened to him?
Oh, yeah. Andrew Wiggins. With soon-to-be Rookie of the Year and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Embiid capturing the attention of the entire league, the 7-foot-2 center has overshadowed his former teammate of late in the NBA.
Well, Wiggins delivered a nice reminder of his prominence within The Association Tuesday night, capping a 31-point outing at Phoenix with a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper.
His Timberwolves trailed by one with the fourth-quarter clock ticking toward 0:00, when Wiggins ran off a pair of picks to catch a pass from point guard Ricky Rubio on the right wing. Then, with Suns veteran P.J. Tucker checking him, the wiry third-year T’wolves wing angled for a potential drive with less than four seconds left on the clock. Wiggins went so hard on his first step (and may have drawn some contact), he nearly lost control and fell over, allowing Tucker to recover in time to force Wiggins into a low-percentage, contested fadeaway jumper. And the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft drained it for a 112-111 Minnesota win.
“I was taking what the defense gave me,” Wiggins said in his postgame interview with FOX Sports North. “You know, they played up close, so I went to my one-dribble pull-up fade, and it was money.”
Following his sixth game this season with 30 or more points — Wiggins also has scored 29 on four occasions — the low key 21-year-old said he could tell he would make his 11th basket on his 22nd shot as soon as the ball left his hand.
In the final seven minutes of the game, Wiggins took over, scoring 14 points to get struggling Minnesota (17-28) a rare road victory and its third straight win.
“My shot was falling,” he said. “I felt comfortable on the court. My teammates got me the ball when I needed it. They’re making big shots, too. Everyone was together tonight.”
Wiggins’ coach, Tom Thibodeau, who is in his first year with the franchise, praised his players’ mental toughness following the victory, referencing Minnesota’s several losses this season in which the team has relinquished leads in the second half.
Thibodeau said the final play had three options out of the set, and Wiggins getting the ball in a spot to either drive or shoot was one of them.
“In the fourth quarter you have to have the courage to take and make,” the coach said, “and he does. And so the more he does it, the more comfortable he’s gonna get. We all have a lot of confidence in him.”
Though the coach thought Wiggins, one of his young stars, alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, might have been held in the final sequence, he liked how the former Kansas standout fought to get to “his spot” on the floor before hoisting the clutch shot.
“He had the concentration and the mental toughness to take all the stuff that happened on that play and get a good shot,” Thibodeau said. “It was a great play by him.”
That mid-range area on the right half of the court, as his coach referenced, is one of Wiggins’ favorites. According to stats.nba.com, he has made 18 of 35 (51%) 2-point jumpers in that zone, well above the league average of 38.9% for that portion of the floor.
In his third NBA season, Wiggins is shooting 44.8% from the field, 34.2% on 3-pointers and 73.2% at the free-throw line, while producing 21.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves, though not yet meeting preseason expectations, are only 3.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The more Joel Embiid plays, the more the NBA Rookie of the Year-in-waiting amazes the Philadelphia fan base and observers league-wide.
The former Kansas big man has scored 20 or more points in his previous nine starts — all while playing between 24 to 30 minutes of 48-minute-long games. Embiid even has led the Sixers, a long mocked franchise that averaged 15.7 wins a season the previous three years, to victories in six of the last seven games in which he’s played.
Since the beginning of January, Embiid is averaging 22.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, while shooting 44.8% from the floor and 81.5% at the foul line and playing 27 minutes a game. The 22-year-old center seemingly improves by the week, and his season numbers of 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, in black and white, look like those of one of the better big men in the Eastern Conference. But does the best rookie in the league actually deserve to play in the NBA All-Star Game?
Hundreds of thousands of NBA fans have answered that question in the affirmative. Voting for all-star starters closed Monday. The results won’t be announced until Thursday night on TNT’s NBA Tip-Off show (6 p.m. CT), but here’s what we do know: at last announced count, Embiid ranked fourth among East frontcourt players in fan votes. As of last week, the fans had LeBron James (1,066,147 votes), Giannis Antetokounmpo (963,110) and Kevin Love (473,328) as their East frontcourt starters. But Embiid wasn’t too far behind Love, with 457,300 votes — narrowing the margin between he and Love from the first vote count by 12,335.
Did Embiid do enough in the final week of the voting period to surpass Love and break into the top three?
Even if he did, that won’t automatically make him an all-star starter or guarantee him a roster spot for the Feb. 19 exhibition in New Orleans. Fan votes carry 50% of the weight in determining starting spots for the Eastern and Western conferences. The other 50% is split evenly between a select number of media who cover the NBA and the league’s current players.
Cleveland superstar James and Milwaukee’s rising star Antetokounmpo are virtual locks to start for the East. That third spot is up for grabs. It would be safe to guess many players and media would lean toward a vote for Love, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Indiana’s Paul George or New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis before they would vote for Embiid. All are more established than the rookie phenom, and the Sixers, though improved, still have just a 13-26 record.
And then there’s the matter of how much — or relatively little — Embiid has played in his first season. The Sixers wisely have kept him out of one game on either end of back-to-back dates and restricted his minutes to around 28 a night. They already spent two years without Embiid impacting their on-court product due to injury, and they want to protect their investment until they’re confident he can handle a complete role.
It’s not by his choice, but Embiid has missed 11 games and doesn’t get as much of a chance to impact games as other East stars, such as Butler (36.7 minutes a game), George (35.3), Antetokounmpo (34.7) and others.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe might have put it best on his Lowe Post podcast while discussing Embiid’s all-star case:
“I love watching Joel Embiid play. Love it. He’s unbelievable. If he stays healthy — knock on every piece of whatever material that is within arm’s length of you — he is going to be a superstar for a long time. He’s missed 10 games and he plays on a minutes restriction. He should not be in the All-Star Game.”
Already, Embiid has produced some almost unthinkable statistics for Philadelphia. Per Basketball-Reference, he’s averaging more points per 100 possessions in his first season than Michael Jordan did. As in No. 23. As in His Airness. As in The G.O.A.T.
ESPN put out another telling stat regarding Embiid’s impact. He ranks second-best in NBA history in rookie points per 36 minutes (28.0), trailing only Kansas legend and hall of famer Wilt Chamberlain (29.2).
Those numbers hint at Embiid’s potential for longterm greatness. However, such examples might not matter to NBA media and players, who, as Lowe pointed out, will most likely take their all-star selections far more seriously than fans, because — right or wrong — sometimes after players’ careers are over their cases for the Hall of Fame can be tied to all-star appearances. So Embiid’s array of highlight blocks and dunks might not be enough to get him in as a starter.
If Embiid doesn’t crack the East’s starting five, he would have to secure one of the seven reserve spots, as chosen by the NBA’s coaches (results announced Jan. 26 on TNT). The same factors that will work against the rookie with players and media might hurt him even more with the coaches. Do enough of them respect Embiid as much as they do other more established players whom they’ve played against and game-planned to try and stop for longer?
Let’s say, as an example, the East starting five matches the latest fan-voting totals. The starters would be James, Antetokounmpo, Love, a third Cav in Kyrie Irving and first-year Chicago Bull Dwyane Wade. The way coaches vote for the all-star backups, they can take two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards. As mentioned earlier, Butler, Anthony, Porzingis and George would be Embiid’s competition for those frountcourt spots. And if the coaches prefer them, or perhaps even Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, landing one of the final two spots could be difficult, too.
The number of all-star caliber guards in the East is greater than the number of available reserve spots for perimeter players. If Irving and Wade start, the coaches would still have Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Washington’s John Wall from which to choose. It seems a fairly safe bet that four of those five will make it.
If Embiid isn’t a first-year all-star, he will still be a headliner in the Rising Stars Challenge (a showcase for first- and second-year players) at all-star weekend. And, let’s be honest, the way his game is progressing — or is that processing? — Embiid looks like a player who will be a no-brainer selection for years to come.
The NBA released the first fan voting returns for the 2017 All-Star Game and former Kansas center Joel Embiid is on the cusp of breaking into the top three spots among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.
The Philadelphia rookie received 221,984 votes at the first checkpoint, garnering more fan support than established East stars such as New York’s Carmelo Anthony (189,817) and Indiana’s Paul George (138,332) among frontcourt candidates.
The league splits players into two groups — guards and frontcourt players — for voting purposes, and only three East players lead Embiid so far: Cleveland superstar LeBron James (595, 288), Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (500,663) and the Cavaliers’ top big man, Kevin Love (250,347).
Through 23 games, Embiid is averaging 19.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for Philadelphia (9-24), despite playing only 25.0 minutes a game up to this point. Still, the 22-year-old big man from Cameroon has become an instant fan favorite thanks to not only his mind-boggling skill set for a 7-foot-2 player, but also his amusing persona, often on display on social media platforms.
NBA fans can submit one All-Star ballot each day during the voting period, through NBA.com, the NBA App, Twitter, Facebook and Google Search. All current NBA players are available for selection.
For the first time in NBA All-Star Game history, this season players and media will have a say in the starters, too — not just the fans. All current players and a media panel each carry 25 percent of the weight in the voting process, while fan votes count for 50 percent. According to the NBA, player and media voting will begin next week, with each participant completing one full ballot featuring two guards and three frontcourt players from both conferences.
After all the votes come in, players will be ranked in each conference by position (guard and frontcourt) within each of the three voting groups – fans, players and media. Each player’s score will be calculated by averaging his weighted rank from each voting group.
The five players (two guards and three frontcourt players) with the best score in each conference will be named All-Star starters. Fan voting will serve as the tiebreaker for players in a position group with the same score.
The next fan voting update comes Jan. 12. Voting for fans, players and media concludes Monday, Jan. 16 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The East and West All-Star reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, will be announced the following week, on Jan. 26.
The 2017 All-Star Game will be played in New Orleans, on Feb. 19.
NBA ALL-STAR FAN VOTING
LeBron James (CLE) 595,288
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 500,663
Kevin Love (CLE) 250,347
Joel Embiid (PHI) 221,984
Carmelo Anthony (NY) 189,817
Jimmy Butler (CHI) 189,066
Kristaps Porzingis (NY) 184,166
Paul George (IND) 138,332
Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 72,628
Jabari Parker (MIL) 64,141
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 543,030
Dwyane Wade (CHI) 278,052
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 253,340
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 193,297
Derrick Rose (NY) 129,924
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 128,940
John Wall (WAS) 87,360
Jeremy Lin (BKN) 59,562
Kemba Walker (CHA) 52,122
Avery Bradley (BOS) 32,822
Kevin Durant (GS) 541,209
Zaza Pachulia (GS) 439,675
Kawhi Leonard (SA) 341,240
Anthony Davis (NO) 318,144
Draymond Green (GS) 236,315
DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) 202,317
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 125,278
LaMarcus Aldridge (SA) 101,724
Blake Griffin (LAC) 100,524
Marc Gasol (MEM) 97,370
Stephen Curry (GS) 523,597
James Harden (HOU) 519,446
Russell Westbrook (OKC) 501,652
Klay Thompson (GS) 293,054
Chris Paul (LAC) 173,830
Damian Lillard (POR) 117,857
Eric Gordon (HOU) 76,609
Manu Ginobili (SA) 65,832
Andre Iguodala (GS) 64,247
Zach LaVine (MIN) 53,642
Kelly Oubre Jr. doesn’t need any fans in the Dallas area, and apparently on his recent road trip with the Washington Wizards to the metroplex Oubre actually created some haters.
Oubre interrupted a noon pickup game at a YMCA, enraging the locals who had taken time out of their day to get a run in. One bystander peeved to see an NBA player getting in the way of some scheduled hoopage happened to be a writer named Tim Rogers, who detailed the encounter in a blog post for DMagazine.com.
According to the eyewitness, Oubre shot (with a trainer/rebounder in tow) at one end of an open full court while a group of 10 other men — and even some onlookers — began shouting at him to get out of the way so they could start their game.
Here’s a pretty amazing excerpt from D Magazine:
Someone went to get management to resolve the situation. We all waited on our end of the court, cursing Kelly Oubre. Management came and went. Kelly Oubre kept shooting.
We determined that Kelly Oubre would get the hell out of the way if we just started our game. And that we did. I was on defense and grabbed the first rebound, took the ball up the court, running the wing, passed it to my left as we crossed mid court. Now we had 10 guys running toward Kelly Oubre and his trainer, and what does Kelly Oubre do? He keeps shooting. Doesn’t budge.
As you might imagine, the game ground to a halt. Ten guys milling about, cursing.
If you’ve ever played pickup basketball, this all sounds infuriating. The writer did add, though, that Oubre was “quite polite” in spite of the court full of people hating his guts. And the former Kansas player and his trainer stopped at the front desk to apologize after they left.
The incident, though, generated enough buzz — at least among those who follow the Washington Wizards — that Oubre was asked to address it following his team’s 113-105 loss at Dallas Tuesday night.
The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner reported the 21-year-old backup small forward went to the downtown YMCA in Dallas with his trainer, Drew Hanlen, who had set up the session and was given permission by a manager to occupy one basket at the gymnasium.
Reporters asked Oubre if the situation and the following attention that came with it surprised him.
“Nah, it’s just a funny story for me,” Oubre told The Post. “But we’re always working, no matter where it is. No matter what the situation is, we’re going to find somewhere to work out even if people are trying to chew our heads off at the YMCA for interrupting their game. It’s like 40-year-old men but I respect it, though. We’re trying to get better, too, as well as they are. I’m happy that [Hanlen] came down to Dallas.”
Oubre scored eight points off 3-for-5 shooting (2-for-4 on 3-pointers) that night against the Mavericks, and chipped in three rebounds and two assists for Washington, which fell to 16-18 on the season.
On the year, while appearing in 32 games, the 21-year-old is averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.8 minutes. Oubre is shooting 41.3% from the floor during his second season and has connected on just 20 of 71 3-pointers (28.2%).
This year, Oubre has produced seven double-digit scoring outings, the last coming Dec. 14, when he had 15 points in 40 minutes versus Charlotte — a game that happened to be his only start to date under first-year Wizards coach Scott Brooks.
Athletes certainly have done far worse things to turn off fans, so perhaps it’s appropriate the episode didn’t seem to faze Oubre. He obviously has plenty to work on if he wants to make his NBA career last. Evidently if he has to incense a gym full of strangers to make that happen it’s fine with him.
Former Kansas post players Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson aren’t the type of big men who can take over an NBA game with their offensive abilities. Still, every team needs post players willing and able to do the far-less-glamorous dirty work.
In fact, they both play their bit parts well enough that first-year Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton decided to utilize a two-headed hustle monster of Black and Robinson against Toronto on Sunday. While the combination of backup bigs weren’t enough for L.A. to defeat one of the league’s better teams, their coach — in need of some help in the frontcourt with Larry Nance Jr. out until the end of the month — came away pleased with the experiment.
“They brought us an energy and toughness that we lack a lot of the time on the defensive end,” Walton said Monday, as detailed on the Lakers’ website. “So it was nice to have them out there fighting and battling and watching the other team get mad at each other for not matching that level of intensity.”
In 17 minutes off the bench against the Raptors, Robinson, who has seen his playing time increase in Nance’s absence, scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
Black, while playing his first prolonged stretch in nearly a month after suffering an ankle injury, added 9 points and 9 boards in 14 minutes for the Lakers.
“It’s kind of similar to what me and Larry Nance did,” Black said on Lakers.com. “Larry Nance got a lot of highlight dunks and tip dunks, because guys are trying to box me out, and vice versa. … T-Rob’s super-tenacious on the boards, so it works out.”
The duo combined for 10 offensive rebounds in the loss to Toronto, and Walton told reporters he anticipates going to them again in the Lakers’ next game, Tuesday night against Memphis.
As many who watched Black and Robinson at Kansas will recall, they have similar personas when they step foot on the court.
“(Black) goes hard like I do every possession,” said Robinson, who is averaging 8.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, while shooting 71.4% from the field in just 17.8 minutes, during the past five games. “He gives me the comfortability of knowing that I got somebody that’s gonna go hard with me playing out there.”
As Robinson alluded to, the two spent some time manning the frontcourt simultaneously versus Toronto. It only lasted five minutes, as detailed at SilverScreenAndRoll.com, but the two seemed to feed off each other.
“We’re both Jayhawks ... and we’re the best in the world,” Robinson said. “We both play with high energy, and so I think that was effective, especially in the first half when we first did it.”
Walton said the Lakers wanted to see what a bench unit with two traditional bigs would look like, instead of using a stretch-4. Exactly how long L.A. (12-25) sticks with the Kansas tandem remains to be seen. But Black and Robinson like the idea of teaming up for more grunt work as long as it remains part of the game plan.
“We have a connection because we come from the same university. Honestly, it’s pretty cool playing with him, to be real with you,” Black said. “I watched him play at Kansas and I went there right after him, so now playing together and being out there on the floor with him, it felt good.”
Mere months ago, the name Joel Embiid served as a punchline for some in NBA circles — what with the Philadelphia center unable to play a single game in his first two years with the franchise, due to serious foot issues.
Now, 21 games into his official rookie season with the Sixers, Embiid has become a sensation. And within the NBA Twitterverse and social media realms that once mocked him, the former Kansas big man has witnessed a surge in the opposite direction among fans, who are rallying to vote him into the 2017 all-star game.
"The fans have been [great] ... and I love it," Embiid told The Inquirer Monday, just one day after the league opened fan voting. "Coming in, I thought I was just going to come in and not play a lot, and just get my feet wet.”
Instead, the charismatic and highly skilled 7-foot-2 pivot quickly turned into not only a fan favorite, but also the face of a rebuilding franchise. The 76ers have yet to pull their minutes restriction (currently around 28 a game, with no back-to-back outings and some games off at the team’s discretion) on their 22-year-old investment with a history of getting hurt. Still, when Embiid gets to play, hardly a game passes without him stunning fans and opponents alike.
Monday night in Sacramento, while squaring off with arguably the best center in the NBA, DeMarcus Cousins, Embiid posted 25 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals — with an albeit awful total of 8 turnovers — in 29 minutes.
While seventh-year veteran “Boogie” Cousins got the best of the matchup, with 30 points, 7 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and a 102-100 Kings victory, the typically cantankerous big man left the floor respecting Embiid and complimenting his game.
“I like that kid a lot. I don’t give a lot of people props, but I like that kid a lot, man,” Cousins said. “I think he got a great chance at being the best big in this league — after I retire.”
Likewise, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger gave the rookie center the verbal equivalent of a slap on the backside while discussing Embiid’s potential.
"It should be illegal to be that big and that skilled at the same time. He's got a terrific future,” Joerger told The Inquirer. “The sky is the limit. Goodness gracious is he good. He's really good.”
That’s the basic sentiment of most who watch Embiid play, and why he is a dark horse candidate to sneak into the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, in New Orleans, on Feb. 19. Providing he remains healthy, the crowd-pleaser from Cameroon will be in “The Big Easy” for all-star weekend, at the very least to participate in the league’s Rising Stars Challenge, a showcase for rookies and second-year players that takes place two days before the main event. Embiid’s talent is undeniable, and his season averages while playing in 21 of Philly’s 30 games — 18.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 46.8% shooting in 24.7 minutes — make him a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year and a possible all-star.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he is a serious consideration for that," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Embiid’s chances of becoming an all-star in his debut season. "I mean, he hasn't done much wrong for him not to be legitimately considered for that game."
As The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey outlined, through the years 45 rookies have played their way into an all-star selection. Even so, only 10 have done so since 1985:
- Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers (2011)
- Yao Ming, Houston (2003)
- Tim Duncan, San Antonio (1998)
- Grant Hill, Detroit (1995)
- Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando (1993)
-Dikembe Mutombo, Denver (1992)
- David Robinson, San Antonio (1990)
- Patrick Ewing, New York (1986)
- Michael Jordan, Chicago (1985)
- Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston (1985)
Recent history suggests impactful big men who capture the imagination have a better shot than anyone of breaking into the exhibition showcase. And Embiid’s game falls in that category.
"You leave an arena," Brown said, while discussing his starting center’s array of skills, "you leave a practice and you leave all the games we played, saying I haven't seen that.”
To an extent, fans, players, coaches and media all have a say in whether Embiid becomes a rare rookie all-star. The NBA used to give the fans all the say in the game’s starting lineups, dating back to 1974-75. The popularity vote won’t carry the same weight this year, though. Those who run the league decided to give the popular vote 50 percent of the weight in picking starting fives for the Eastern and Western conferences this season, with the other 50 percent split evenly between votes from current players and a select group of media members who cover the NBA. The league’s coaches, as usual, will select the all-star reserves.
So how can a fan try and propel Embiid into a starting spot? There are a few options, the first being selecting him as one of three frontcourt players and two guards from the Eastern Conference, via a traditional ballot at NBA.com or through the NBA App.
Easier and quicker avenues exist, as well. The following are rules for voting through social media or Google, per the NBA (voting concludes Jan. 16):
- Twitter: Tweet, retweet or reply with an NBA player’s first and last name or Twitter handle, along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE. Each Tweet may include only one player’s name or handle. Fans may vote for 10 unique players each day throughout the NBA All-Star voting period.
Facebook: Post the player’s first and last name along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE on your personal Facebook account, or comment on another’s Facebook post. Each post may include only one player’s name. Fans may post votes for 10 unique players per day throughout the voting period.
Google search: Search “NBA Vote All-Star” or “NBA Vote Team Name” (ex: NBA Vote Sixers), and use respective voting cards that appear to select teams and players. Fans may submit votes for 10 unique players per day throughout the voting period.
As one would expect, the Sixers, while 7-23 and not creating much buzz for the organization as a whole, are capitalizing on their most marketable player and encouraging fans to vote for Embiid.
Is Embiid really a more deserving frontcourt starter in the East than, say, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kristaps Porzingis? (Obviously, no one should get a vote over LeBron James.) That’s the beauty — or ugliness, depending on your perspective — of the voting format. A fan can vote for any player in the NBA she or he wants, regardless of merit. So a trendy talent such as Embiid, who also has wowed opponents and media, seems to have a legitimate shot.
"If it's possible, it would be great,” the big man told The Inquirer, “and especially as a rookie, that would be exciting. That'd be great.”
Surely Embiid will trust the voting process.
No one expected rookie Cheick Diallo, a second-round draft pick, to turn around the New Orleans Pelicans — or even immediately become a rotation player. And two months into the former Kansas big man’s NBA career, those assumptions surrounding Diallo have proven valid.
Even so, the raw, 6-foot-9 forward from Mali looks like someone who could carve out a niche for himself with more playing time and development.
While Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has only sent Diallo onto the court in 6 of the team’s 20 games, the 20-year-old project has experienced an upswing in playing time of late. Four of the backup post player’s appearances have come in the past two weeks — a stretch in which Diallo has averaged 9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.3 blocks in 17.8 minutes, while also receiving three DNP’s.
As highlighted by Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer, on one night against the Los Angeles Clippers (albeit in a blowout loss on Dec. 10), Diallo surpassed or met all of his personal bests from his one season at Kansas in the following categories, with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist in 31 minutes.
“Diallo failed to meet expectations in college,” O’Connor wrote, “but he could exceed them as the no. 33 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The Pels are trying to win games, too, but it’s become clear that they’re facing yet another lost season, at (now 10–20)… Hopefully Diallo will receive more minutes as the year wears on.”
The youngster figures to keep bouncing in and out of New Orleans’ rotation for the time being, but he showed some promise in his career performance against the Clippers, by cutting hard when spotting an opening in the middle of the floor, taking an active approach on the offensive glass, knocking down three jumpers and even scoring on the move with his left hand.
The Pelicans avoided Diallo accumulating much rust as a seldom-used rookie by sending him to the D-League for a stretch of November. In nine games for the Austin Spurs, Diallo got the minutes (23.3 a game) his NBA team couldn’t afford to offer him. He averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in the D-League, while shooting 51.1% from the floor and 25-for-36 (69.4%) around the rim.
After playing 22 minutes last week against Houston, in another 20-plus-point loss, Diallo explained how one night after watching an entire game form the bench he was able to contribute 10 points and 7 rebounds, on 4-for-5 shooting versus the Rockets.
“Coach always say to be ready, so I was ready. Today was my chance. He gave me a chance, so I just show what I can do,” Diallo said.
Gentry, the young backup power forward shared, likes utilizing Diallo’s quickness on defense when he can. On the occasions when New Orleans faces teams such as Houston, which uses lots of pick-and-rolls and has some post players spotting up on the perimeter, Diallo might see more chances to fill in.
“We switch, one through four sometimes — sometimes one to five,” the rookie said of the Pelicans’ defensive strategy. “So I can guard multiple positions, so that helped me a lot today (versus Houston).”
Diallo only played seven NBA minutes and hadn’t scored a point prior to his recent outburst against the Clippers. His patience and willingness to absorb all the coaching thrown his direction will help him continue on a positive path. While his one season at KU didn’t live up to the hype, his college coach, Bill Self, never once questioned Diallo’s ability to work hard toward improving.
“On the court, I’m all about taking care of business,” Diallo said before his first pro season began. “I do everything exactly how the coach tells me to do it. I’m not going to be laughing or giggling. Off the court, I’m cool and chill. On the court, I’m 100 percent focused.”
As long as the 20-year-old big embraces that approach, he’ll have less trouble eclipsing the forecasts many had for his future in the NBA.
The NBA and its fans have been warned. Do not anger Joel Embiid.
After Philadelphia came out flat and gave what Embiid considered an embarrassing performance on national television against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday — a game in which the rookie center from Kansas shot just 5-for-14 and only collected four rebounds — he told reporters those kind of nights irritate him.
“My job has been trying to change the culture,” Embiid told The Inquirer. “It just makes me mad that we come out on ESPN and TNT and play so bad.”
“It still kind of makes me mad when I go on Twitter,” Embiid added. “We didn’t have the worst record in the league (at the time). But people still say we do just because of the past.”
Provoked by that perceived lack of respect, the 22-year-old face of the 76ers channeled his frustrations Sunday against Brooklyn and cooked the Nets for a career-high 33 points, on 12-for-17 shooting.
"I felt for the first time, all over, he really wanted to dominate the game," Sixers coach Brett Brown said after Embiid also contributed 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, while going 2-for-3 from 3-point range and 7-for-8 at the free-throw line in 27 minutes. "He really wanted to win the game. He really wanted to be the anchor to everything we were doing."
The 7-foot-2 star-in-the-making even dove into the arena’s most expensive seats trying to save a loose ball.
When he wasn’t scaring the life out of court-side ticket-holders, Embiid, the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year, was showing off a collection of offensive moves and skills that make many around the league think he will dominate for years to come — if he can stay healthy.
Jump hooks. Pull-up jumpers off of cross-overs. Soft bank shots off the glass from the post. Finishing alley-oops above the rim. Facing up and using his agility to spin past his man for a bucket. Spotting up for 3-pointers. Name an offensive skill. Embiid can do it.
Even when his body couldn’t quite keep up with what his brain wanted to accomplish against Brooklyn, good things happened.
At one point, Embiid blew a dunk after turning a steal into a fast-break opportunity, but he’s so large and nimble the big from Cameroon had the ability to gather his own miss and score without his foes having much hope.
On another offensive possession, Philly’s centerpiece fell down on the floor while kicking a pass to the wing on the move. But Embiid just got back up and turned it into a give-and-go layup.
As reported by Keith Pompey of The Inquirer, Embiid became the franchise’s first rookie to post at least 33 and 10 since Hall of Famer Hal Greer went for 45 points and 11 boards for the Syracuse Nationals in 1959.
"I thought my teammates were finding me, and then I was getting into the flow of the offense,” the rookie big man said afterward. ”I wasn't forcing anything. I was just playing basketball."
Now all the rest of the league can do is hope Embiid is more jovial than apoplectic when it’s time to face Philadelphia. Though with the Sixers’ 7-20 record (tied for the worst winning percentage with Dallas), most teams should still be all right, regardless of the big man’s mood.
Uh-oh. Did I just poke the bear? I mean, that guy killed a lion once. Sorry, NBA.
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.
You probably already knew former Kansas standout Andrew Wiggins was a better NBA player than many around the league. Take, I don’t know, every player who starts for the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. Wiggins is definitely better than Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, D’Angelo Russell and Nick “Swaggy P” Young, right?
As if we needed any confirmation of this fact, Wiggins provided it Sunday by scoring a new career-high 47 points — as many as the Lakers’ starting five combined.
The Timberwolves’ ever-improving wing would’ve reached 50 points — and outscored L.A’s starters by himself — had a late 3-pointer not misfired.
Minnesota’s home crowd, the Star Tribune reported, badly wanted Wiggins to hit 50.
“Not as bad as me,” Wiggins said afterward.
One of the crazy factors in the 6-foot-8 small forward’s massive night is he reached 47 points with just two of five 3-pointers falling through the net. Keep in mind: Wiggins actually leads the league in 3-point shooting (17-for-31) at 54.8%.
Wiggins quickly eclipsed his previous career high of 36 — set less than a week before against Brooklyn — by working the Lakers over with his jumper and getting to the paint, making 14 of 21 shots overall.
Plus, he lived at the free-throw line, what with the Lakers’ inability to stop him offensively. Wiggins shot 17-for-22 at the charity stripe — both easily season highs — to improve his season free-throw shooting percentage to 74.1%.
The offensive explosion came on the second day of a back-to-back, after Wiggins attempted more shots (8-for-24) in a 22-point effort against L.A.’s far superior team, the Clippers.
“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”
There are still months to play in the season, but at this juncture Wiggins qualifies as one of the NBA’s better scorers. Averaging 26.3 points a game, he ranks ninth in the category. Still, Thibodeau sees even more potential in his 21-year-old wing.
“He’s smart. He’s driven,” the first-year T’wolves coach told the Star Tribune. “I think sometimes people mistakenly take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. He’s just scratching the surface. I think he can be a lot more. … I don’t want to put a lid on it. It’s what he wants it to be.”
Minnesota (3-6) has another future all-star in Karl-Anthony Towns, but the franchise could use an assertive Wiggins carrying much of the scoring load as the team tries to reach the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Though it seems inevitable, the Timberwolves still have quite a journey in front of them before they can reach the upper echelon of the Western Conference, and that day likely won’t come for a couple more seasons. Once they get there, though, games like this one from Wiggins will qualify as key milepost markers along that pilgrimage.