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'Hawks in the NBA

Sixers could “Trust the Process” and shut Joel Embiid down for season

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

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How close is free agent Mario Chalmers to returning to the NBA?

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) looks for an open teammate past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Miami. Chalmers, playing against Miami as an opponent for the first time since being traded to Memphis last month, finished with 12 for the Grizzlies as the Heat defeated the Grizzlies 100-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) looks for an open teammate past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Miami. Chalmers, playing against Miami as an opponent for the first time since being traded to Memphis last month, finished with 12 for the Grizzlies as the Heat defeated the Grizzlies 100-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) is helped from the court after injuring his right leg during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) is helped from the court after injuring his right leg during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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.

Kansas University's Mario Chalmers (15) leads the celebration as time runs out on the Jayhawks' 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis. Chalmers hit a three-pointer to tie it with 2.1 seconds left in regulation, and the Jayhawks went on to win their first national title in 20 years.

Kansas University's Mario Chalmers (15) leads the celebration as time runs out on the Jayhawks' 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis. Chalmers hit a three-pointer to tie it with 2.1 seconds left in regulation, and the Jayhawks went on to win their first national title in 20 years. by thad-allender

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.”

Reply 1 comment from Henry Hofmeister

Markieff Morris playing ‘out of his mind’ for surging Wizards

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (33) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (33) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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.

via GIPHY

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.

via GIPHY

“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.

Markieff Morris' shot chart since coach Scott Brooks let him know he needed to play at a higher level.

Markieff Morris' shot chart since coach Scott Brooks let him know he needed to play at a higher level. by Benton Smith

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.”

Reply 2 comments from Marius Rowlanski Rockn_chalkn_ku

Tarik Black earns master’s degree, plans to start own foundation

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) slam dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and forward Terrence Jones (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Lakers won 126-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) slam dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and forward Terrence Jones (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Lakers won 126-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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.”

Reply 6 comments from Armen Kurdian Janet Olin Jack Joiner Harlan Hobbs Nathan Scholl Clara Westphal

Report: Mario Chalmers and Kirk Hinrich to work out with Cleveland

FILE — Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) plays in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

FILE — Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) plays in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

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.

None by Mario Chalmers

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.

FILE — Former Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich, right, and Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, left, chase a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

FILE — Former Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich, right, and Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, left, chase a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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.

Reply 4 comments from Stupidmichael Michael Elliott Josh Galler Noel Graham

Joel Embiid thought he deserved an All-Star spot

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez, left, watches as Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during the second half of the NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez, left, watches as Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during the second half of the NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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.”

Embiid vs. Love, George and Millsap
Rk Player Age G MP
FG% 3P% 2P% eFG% FT% ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1Joel Embiid223025.3.462.348.495.501.7772.07.82.10.82.53.73.619.8
2Kevin Love283932.1.429.376.472.514.8692.611.01.90.80.42.11.920.5
3Paul Millsap314334.0.444.335.481.486.7501.78.13.81.51.02.32.618.0
4Paul George263835.4.453.395.485.522.9230.86.03.31.70.32.82.722.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2017.
Embiid vs. Love, George and Millsap
Rk Player Age G MP PER
TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG%
1Joel Embiid223075823.9.579.225.5828.825.017.016.11.67.817.936.2
2Kevin Love2839125022.2.579.454.3588.928.518.99.91.30.910.627.0
3Paul George2638134719.2.580.348.2782.515.89.315.72.30.612.727.7
4Paul Millsap3143146318.6.536.250.3615.420.813.118.32.22.512.024.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2017.

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.

Reply 2 comments from Rae Bricil Humpy Helsel

How Joel Embiid’s numbers stack up against other potential East all-stars

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

None by Keith Pompey

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.

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Watch Andrew Wiggins bury game-winning jumper to cap 31-point night

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game-winning basket as Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Phoenix. The Timberwolves won 112-111. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game-winning basket as Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Phoenix. The Timberwolves won 112-111. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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What are Joel Embiid’s chances of making all-star team as rookie?

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, top, dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, top, dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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?

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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First All-Star voting returns show Joel Embiid 4th among East frontcourt players

Philadelphia 76ers' Nik Stauskas, from left, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric celebrate after Covington's go-ahead basket in the final seconds of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 93-91. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Nik Stauskas, from left, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric celebrate after Covington's go-ahead basket in the final seconds of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 93-91. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

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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.

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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

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

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

Guards

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

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

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

Guards

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

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