When last we left our masked hero, he was, well, masked. And tired of wearing a mask. And angry about his season coming to an end in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Compared to how his first three years in the league played out, though, none of those details seem so bad in retrospect.
Over the course of the 2017-18 season, Joel Embiid went from an injury-prone punchline to one of the game’s most dominating players. Some less serious setbacks than the ones that marred the Philadelphia center’s previous three as a professional caused him to miss 19 games, most coming at the end of the regular season. But his impact and numbers — 22.9 points per game, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 blocks — were so great that he made the All-NBA second team in his second season of competition.
A man who couldn’t seem to stay healthy enough to actually get on the court after becoming the Sixers’ No. 3 overall draft pick in 2014 helped his team secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
When considering all that Embiid accomplished in his first full season in the NBA (he only played 31 of 82 games before suffering a season-ending injury as a rookie), I keep going back to what the 7-footer said before it all played out. When Embiid and the 76ers practiced at Allen Fieldhouse in October of 2017, I asked the former University of Kansas center whether he had added anything new to his repertoire during the offseason.
“Not really,” Embiid replied. “Because I didn’t really get the chance to be on the court this summer, because I was rehabbing (the left-knee injury that ended his 2016-17 season).”
The man couldn’t even work on his game during the summer, said he felt behind in the preseason and went on to become not just an all-star, but an all-league performer. And Embiid said once he got healthy and caught up he thought the Sixers — after five consecutive losing, playoff-less seasons — could make the postseason.
So we should probably heed the Cameroonian center’s words regarding his expectations for the 2018-19 season, which tips off Tuesday night (7 p.m., TNT) with Philadelphia taking on East favorite Boston, the team that eliminated the Sixers in the second round this past spring.
Amid a healthy offseason of actually working on his game and conditioning, Embiid made it clear back in August that he’s planning on a massive campaign.
“I want to win the MVP,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I feel like at the end of the day it might be an individual award, but when I play better, the team also does. I feel like if I’m an MVP candidate or if I win the MVP, that means we are on another level.”
Embiid possesses the bravado of a professional wrestler and the size and skill to become (if healthy, a parenthetical that will continue to accompany him for some time) one of the game’s all-time great big men. You’ll want to tune in for the show every chance you get.
Other Jayhawks to watch
On the opposite end of the NBA spectrum, in Phoenix, where the likely lottery-bound Suns have an intriguing core of young talent but play in the loaded Western Conference, another former one-and-done lottery pick from KU, Josh Jackson, enters his second season with some hardware in mind, too.
And Jackson isn’t taking an outlandish route with his goal.
After averaging 13.1points and 4.6 rebounds and shooting 41.7 percent from the floor in 77 games as a rookie, Jackson, through a promotional piece for Under Armour, made public his plan to go after the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
“I really want to win that award,” the 21-year-old Jackson said. “It would help me feel the work I put in last season and this summer paid off.”
While Suns games aren’t exactly easy to find on the league’s national TV schedule, you can keep up with Jackson’s progress over at The Undefeated, where he will work with Marc J. Spears throughout the season to provide diary entries about his life on and off the court.
“How good is he? How good is he going to be? Can he really win? I feel like this is a big year for me to answer those questions,” Jackson began in his first piece.
Though he started four games for Boston in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, Marcus Morris plans on making a different role work for him this season.
The Celtics’ top five players — Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — project as one of the league’s best lineups. Morris, entering his eighth season, plans on Boston having one of the NBA’s top bench units, too.
With the old school hiphop group N.W.A. the source of his inspiration, Morris declared the Celtics’ group of reserves — himself, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes and others — “B.W.A.” or “bench with attitude.”
“I think we have a lot of guys that bring that fire,” Morris told The Athletic. “So I just wanted to try and have fun with it. We’ve got, to me, a couple guys on the bench who could start on other teams. And at the same time we’re still coming in with that fire. Basically, if another bench don’t come in ready we’re going to bust their ass. And that’s how we approach it.”
Morris and the Celtics are gunning for the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.
Because, of course he did, Marcus’ twin brother Markieff, he of the Washington Wizards, told reporters before the preseason schedule even began that Boston “has never been better than us.”
The Wizards, in Markieff’s mind, are the best team in the East.
“Raptors are going through a little bit, they changed up DeMar DeRozan,” the Wizards forward opined. “Other than that, Boston has never been better than us. Internally we don't think they were better than us last year. But we just got to play up to our ability."
The East’s No. 8 seed this past season, Washington lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. We’ll have to check back in April or May to gauge Markieff’s prophesying abilities.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft and the recent recipient of a five-year, $148 million contract extension, Andrew Wiggins is viewed in most NBA circles as little more than an athletic scorer.
Those who cover Minnesota for the Star Tribune have reached a point where they’re ready to label Wiggins as a lost cause.
The Timberwolves’ best player, Jimmy Butler, demanded a trade, reportedly, in part, due to his not-so-high opinion of Wiggins and the franchise’s youngest star, Karl-Anthony Towns.
Butler might have been traded by the time you’re reading this. Or he might play out the season begrudgingly with Minnesota. Either way, Wiggins will be on the receiving end of some unwanted attention. The T’wolves are due to pay him more than $25 million this season and they — coach Tom Thibodeau in particular — would like to see more from the 23-year-old wing than the 19.7 points per game career average he brings with him into his fifth NBA season.
Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk
Sure, they play on opposite coasts for very different franchises, but for one last time it seems right to group these two former KU teammates and sidekicks together.
Both second-round picks enter their rookie season in similar situations, too. Devonte’ Graham, for now, looks like a 12th man type for Charlotte, behind all-star Kemba Walker and former Spurs great Tony Parker at point guard.
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, on the same team as legendary forward LeBron James no less, Svi Mykhailiuk, like Graham, likely won’t be called upon unless the bench is emptied in the game’s final minutes.
But an injury here or there could bump either of the rookies up their team’s depth chart. It will be interesting to see how they handle their opportunities when they come and to monitor how much their respective franchises utilize the G League in their development.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Under contract only through the end of this season, Kelly Oubre Jr.’s next few months will determine how much money teams, including Washington, are interested in paying him once he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
The 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Oubre is coming off easily his most productive season in the NBA, having averaged 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 steals, while shooting 34.1 percent from 3-point range — all career highs.
He already has proven to be a valuable defender as a pro. If he can somehow develop into a slightly better 3-point shooter Oubre won’t have to worry about finding a team that wants to pay him.
Frank Mason III
A beloved former national player of the year at KU, Frank Mason III just might begin his second season taking on a key role for Sacramento.
According to NBC Sports Bay Area, Kings coach Dave Joerger is considering starting Mason in the backcourt while the team is without Bogdan Bogdanovic.
“You’re going to get 110 percent from him,” Joerger said of Mason.
A hot start for Mason could inspire his coach to ask more of him on a permanent basis. Mason averaged 18.9 minutes while playing in 52 games as a rookie, producing 7.9 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds, with 36 percent 3-point accuracy but just a 38.4 percent mark on 2-pointers as he struggled to finish inside against the length of NBA defenders.
Though Wayne Selden, in his first full season with Memphis, averaged 9.3 points per game and hit 40.2 percent of his 3-pointers, his status within the Grizzlies’ rotation, it appears, will be determined by how he plays in the weeks ahead and fits into various lineups.
As reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, injuries during his time with the organization have kept Selden from establishing what he could be for the Grizzlies. Selden will enter the summer of 2019 as an unrestricted free agent.
Coming into his third year with New Orleans, Cheick Diallo has yet to play more than 11.7 minutes a game. He at least appeared in 52 in 2017-18, far more than the 17 he experienced as a rookie.
Due to the Pelicans’ front court depth — Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, Darius Miller and even Jahlil Okafor — it’s difficult to foresee his role expanding this year.
Back with Sacramento after an uneventful stint with Memphis, Ben McLemore, at 25, doesn’t even really fit into the Kings’ youth movement.
It doesn’t seem too farfetched for him to play behind Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Yogi Ferrell and Iman Shumpert at shooting guard.
When the Kings traded for him this summer it was most likely for his contract, which will come off the books at the end of this season.
An undrafted rookie who never actually played at Kansas, Billy Preston likely won’t play much for Cleveland this year, either.
The 6-foot-10 forward whose name infamously popped up in the ongoing federal college basketball trial is playing on a two-way contract with the Cavs, allowing him to split time in the G League and NBA.
In every great NBA player’s narrative there’s a moment he’d like to forget that actually turns into a point in time that shapes the rest of his career for the better. For Philadelphia uber-center Joel Embiid, that instant might have come Wednesday night in a season-ending loss.
Trailing Boston by two with the shot clock off in the fourth quarter of Game 5, the Sixers turned to a suddenly unmasked Embiid for a potential game-tying basket. The former Kansas big man faced up Celtics center Aron Baynes, drove to the paint and couldn’t finish a layup or secure the ensuing offensive rebound, as Boston point guard Terry Rozier snuck in to swipe at the ball, which went out of bounds off of Embiid with just more than 10 seconds on the game clock.
Already down on the court, Embiid slammed his hands on the floor in disbelief and let his 7-foot-2 body fall prostrate. The Celtics went on to win 114-112, ending Philadelphia’s season in the second round of the playoffs.
The play was the antithesis of the rest of Embiid’s night, as his second season in the NBA concluded shortly after unleashing his array of talents. Smooth jumpers, graceful finishes around the rim, protecting the paint on defense. Peak Embiid. The only thing lacking was a 3-pointer, but he finished with 27 points (9-for-18 shooting), 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks in his best performance of the postseason.
“It’s hard, because I feel like we had a pretty good chance of beating them,” Embiid said during his post-game press conference. “You’ve gotta learn from it and come back next year and do better.”
Some observers didn’t even expect the Sixers, a league laughingstock during their rebuild, to reach the playoffs this season. But by pairing Embiid with 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, Philadelphia found a young one-two punch as intimidating as any in the NBA. The duo helped Philly finish the regular season 52-30, capturing the No. 3 seed, before the 76ers disposed of Miami, 4-1, in the first round.
Considering Embiid is just 24 years old, Simmons is 21, Dario Saric is 24 and 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz (a non-factor this year) is 19, the confident, young Sixers rightfully anticipate better playoff finishes to come. But they also thought they were capable of more right now.
“We feel like when everybody’s on we’re unbeatable,” the always self-assured Embiid shared. “But we committed a lot of mistakes. We’ve gotta learn from it. But we definitely have more to show.”
The spectacle known as the Sixers will keep the NBA Playoffs compelling for years to come if — and this caveat always must be included when discussing Embiid, who missed his first two pro seasons due to injuries — the multi-skilled Cameroonian known as “The Process” can remain healthy.
“I feel like this season was kind of like a success,” Embiid said. “Our goal was to make the playoffs. And then we changed it and we wanted to get the third seed. And then it was the 50 wins. And going into the playoffs we felt like we had a really good chance, especially after winning 16 in a row (to close the regular season). We felt like we had a good chance to get to at least the conference finals and that was our goal. We didn’t make it, but the whole season we changed the goals we set at the beginning of the season.”
The franchise center said he and Simmons “have a lot of room to grow,” and referenced the beginning of the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook era in Oklahoma City as an example of how two young talents can reshape an organization.
“I think we’ve got a bright future,” Embiid said, and related an exchange he and Simmons shared after their loss to the Celtics, when the guard pointed to the center’s hands and predicted there would be “a lot of rings” on Embiid’s fingers.
“I’m excited to learn from this stuff, because I felt like we had a pretty good chance,” the big man continued, “but you’ve just gotta learn from it and we’re gonna be fine.”
As a wise man once said: Trust the process.
In the first three games of Philadelphia’s Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with Boston, star center Joel Embiid averaged 24.3 points and often became the focal point of his team’s offense. The problem with this particular approach for “The Process” was the Celtics entered Game 4 with a 3-0 lead.
In the former Kansas big man’s first playoff elimination game, Embiid and the Sixers took a different approach and, with the help of a career night from new starting guard T.J. McConnell, knocked off Boston to stay alive.
Leading up to Monday’s win-or-go-home outing for Philadelphia, both ESPN’s Zach Lowe and The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pointed out the lack of success the Sixers had offensively when feeding Embiid in the post.
During the first three games of the series, when Embiid received the ball via post-up and shot — an approach welcomed by Boston, by not sending double-teams — the Sixers only produced 23 points on 42 such plays.
From the opening minutes of Game 4, Philadelphia clearly had a different agenda, showing a concerted effort to bring some variation to its offense, with more actions designed to free cutters headed for the paint and the Sixers opting to post up Dario Saric or Ben Simmons when a smaller Boston defender ended up on one of them. Philly didn’t force-feed Embiid and the rest of the team benefited as a result.
While the 24-year-old 7-footer only scored on 1 of 4 shots directly off his post-ups, Philadelphia actually fared far better on his post touches overall. During Embiid’s 35 minutes on the floor, he received the ball 10 times on post-ups and the Sixers scored on 5 of them, netting 11 points (1.1 points per possession).
Embiid finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 turnovers and looked comfortable deferring more often for the well-being of his team. The masked face of the franchise — or “Phantom of The Process” — shot 6-for-15, while Saric (25 points) led Philly in shot attempts (9 of 17) and Simmons (19 points) got more involved as a scorer (6 of 15).
When his teammate did seek out Embiid in the post, unlike earlier in the series, it tended to work out. In the opening minutes, the starting center went old school, scoring over Al Horford with a jump-hook after backing him down
In the second quarter, Embiid first made an impact in the post by drawing a foul on Marcus Morris, whom he pinned beneath the rim (more on that KU connection to come). He later posted up Aron Baynes on the right block and passed out of a double team to feed McConnell (19 points, 9-for-12 shooting) for a score inside.
The Sixers finished the half in style on a set that began with Embiid posting at the left elbow. After giving the ball to J.J. Redick on a handoff and rolling to the paint, the big man threw down a jam for a 47-43 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, one Embiid post-up on the left elbow eventually turned into a wide-open McConnell 3 that pushed the margin to 76-62. In the fourth, after Embiid drew a foul while posting up Greg Monroe, the side out of bounds play that followed concluded with a McConnell layup.
Amid all the countable contributions Embiid made to the win, he also kept the raucous Philly crowd involved, sometimes with the help of his opponents.
In the second quarter Marcus Smart reached in after Embiid secured a defensive board and knocked the visor on the big man’s mask, giving the Sixers star the chance to play to the crowd and for the fans to boo Smart — a pastime with which Kansas fans surely are familiar.
The intensity turned up even more a few minutes later, when Embiid tried taking the ball from Terry Rozier after the point guard was whistled for an offensive foul. The two had to be separated after Rozier pushed Embiid and swung at them, leading to double technical fouls.
Of course, Embiid had something to say about it during his post-game press conference.
“Too bad he’s so short that he couldn’t get to my face,” Embiid deadpanned.
In the third quarter, with Philadelphia making a run, Embiid let another former Kansas standout, Morris, know the Sixers were getting in the Celtics’ heads. Morris responded by first flashing three fingers, then zero, referencing the state of the series entering Game 4.
Dull moments don’t exist in Joel Embiid’s world. Check in to see what he has in store on Wednesday, when the Celtics and Sixers play Game 5, in Boston.
He told you to trust the process. Why didn’t you believe him?
In just his second year competing at the NBA level, Joel Embiid has helped Philadelphia, a team that owned a 0.191 winning percentage in the three seasons before his debut, reach the second round of the playoffs.
The game-changing center who spent one shortened season at Kansas returned to the Sixers’ lineup against Miami with their first-round series tied at 1-1. The Heat failed to win a game with Embiid on the floor, and a franchise that was the butt of copious jokes as recently as a year ago eliminated one of the league’s most respected organizations, Thursday night. Embiid’s 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting, with 12 rebounds and 2 steals fueled the final blow of a 4-1 series victory.
“Two years ago, we won 10 games,” Embiid, who missed the first two seasons of his career due to injuries, told The Inquirer. “To get in this position, I’m just excited. Playing through adversity and everything that’s happened to me, I’m just blessed.”
The Sixers await the winner of the Boston-Milwaukee series in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a round Philly now projects to reach with ease for years to come.
“This is the future of the NBA,” Heat veteran and future hall of famer Dwyane Wade told reporters after the 76ers sent Miami home. Wade added the league is in “good hands” with Embiid and rookie point guard extraordinaire Ben Simmons.
In fact, in many NBA circles Philadelphia isn’t even considered a team to reckon with a year or two from now. Given the landscape of the East — top seed Toronto is tied 2-2 with No. 8 seed Washington, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers are tied 2-2 with Indiana, and Boston, though up 3-2 on Milwaukee, doesn’t have injured all-stars Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward — the Sixers, some say, have as realistic a shot as any team to advance out of the Eastern Conference.
As you might have guessed, Philly’s boisterous center agrees.
“I think we have a chance to go to The Finals,” Embiid said during an on-court interview with ESPN following the victory, when asked how far Philadelphia could venture this postseason.
Embiid has played in just 94 regular-season games in his injury-shortened career, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft only looks muddled in the playoffs when the mask protecting the orbital bone he fractured last month affects his vision or comfort.
In three victories the 24-year-old force now known as “The Process” is averaging 18.7 points on 41.7% shooting, to go with 10.3 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals.
“I promised the city this, and I’m just excited,” Embiid said following his home-court postseason debut.
“I think we have a special team,” he added during his post-game press conference. “You know, we’ve got a lot of talent and they’re all good guys. We love each other. We love playing with each other. So I feel like we play the way we want to play, and that’s sharing the ball and being the best defensive team in the league. We feel like if we move the ball we can get whatever we want to, so that’s the goal and we’re going to do everything to get there.”
Few believed a year ago such a scenario was possible, but it’s true. The recently forlorn Sixers could win not one, but multiple playoff series this spring.
And this team that has won 20 of its previous 21 games just may be good enough to reach The Finals. Is that possible?
As the headline in today’s Inquirer read: “Yes, Indiid!”
It wouldn’t really feel like a true Joel Embiid milestone without some maddening injury putting it behind schedule. So, appropriately enough, the often-wounded, rarely-dispirited Philadelphia center made his NBA Playoffs debut three games into his team’s opening-round series Thursday night in Miami.
Although the former Kansas star, who never played in an NCAA Tournament game back in 2014 due to a back injury, missed the last three weeks and the 76ers’ previous 10 games due to an orbital bone fracture near his left eye, a masked Embiid returned to the lineup to lead his team to a road victory in his postseason launch.
Sure, the Sixers’ star appeared both obstructed and frustrated at times by the protective shield strapped to his face. Even so, Embiid, while showing some rust, managed to pour in 23 points on 5-for-11 shooting, nail 3 of 4 from 3-point range and provide 7 boards, 4 assists and 3 blocks in 30 minutes of a 128-108 win.
The first five field-goal attempts from the recovering big man misfired before he got on track just before halftime, first by knocking down a 3-pointer, then converting through contact on a smooth up-and-under.
“I am just so proud of what he did on the court,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said after Embiid helped the team take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. “Take the real situation of not only was he injured, and not playing basketball, but now you’ve gotta come back in on the road and play a playoff game with a mask. And it’s not like there’s a clear vision line out of the mask. It has a protective lens in there, as well. And for him to come back under those terms and in that situation and produce the numbers he produced, and help lead us to a road playoff win, I’m very, very proud of him.”
As indestructible as the mask’s components proved to be — Miami’s Justise Winslow purposefully stepped on the goggles portion when it popped off to no avail — The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported Embiid had to use three different masks during the course of the game as the protective gear suffered damages significant enough to warrant replacements.
“It was annoying,” Embiid said, “but that was the only way I could play in this game, was if I was going to wear the mask and protect my face with the goggles. So I had to work through it, and I did, and we got a pretty good win.”
As for Winslow’s ploy to potentially destroy the mask and perhaps sideline Embiid as a result? Well, the Philly center got a kick out of that.
“Little do they know that I have about 50 of them,” Embiid said. “So it’s gonna take much more than that to get me out of the series. And I’m gonna be a nightmare for them, too.”
The Sixers took a 2-point lead into the fourth quarter before putting Miami away on its home floor down the stretch. In the final five-plus minutes, Embiid drilled a fade-away jumper off the glass, knocked down a 3-pointer, blocked a shot and sent in a pair of free throws, before checking out with his team up 16 points.
“It meant a lot,” Embiid said of finally appearing in his first playoff game, close to four years after the 76ers took him No 3 overall in the 2014 draft. “I feel like I’ve been here, went through everything. The year we only won 10 games (2015-16) it was really disappointing. So we went through a lot, and to be able to be in this position, I’m really happy about it. I’m really happy for coach, finally has a team and is coaching us well. He deserves a lot of credit and I feel like he should be Coach of the Year, too. But I was excited. Worked really hard for it and promised the city that. Made it happen. And I was kind of sad that I couldn’t play in the first game or at home, because we have a special connection. But I’m glad I came back today and we got a win.”
For six of the 15 former Kansas basketball players employed by NBA franchises, the conclusion of the regular season’s 82-game grind also meant the end of their hopes of competing for a title, at least for this year.
But nine other Jayhawks, embarking on the 2018 playoffs this weekend, discovered better fortune.
While some one-time KU stars are just along for the ride on teams that call upon them sparingly, a few who used to shine in Allen Fieldhouse will need to produce in the postseason — most notably two of the top three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
Here’s a look at the Jayhawks still alive for the league’s 2018 championship and what roles they will play in the weeks ahead.
Marcus Morris — Boston
For some, springtime means giving up a form of personal vice for Lent. This April, and maybe beyond, Marcus Morris plans to give up two for the playoffs. Or so he claims.
The pledge which the 6-foot-9 Boston forward schemed second seems more manageable than the first. On the final day of the regular season, Morris proclaimed on Twitter he would shut down his account until after the postseason. The vow came complete with a “locked in” hashtag and a reference to the pending “money time” ahead.
As for the other oath, ejections from two separate games in the season’s final weeks prompted Morris to focus on better behavior moving forward.
"Going in the playoffs, it’s nothing to worry about,” Morris said of his technical issues in the foul department. “I promise I won't get any techs — unless we're just getting blatantly cheated. I want my team to win, so I won't put my team in jeopardy or anything like that. But I'll still be passionate about the game."
Morris, who averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists for the Celtics, while shooting 42.9% from the floor and 36.8% on 3-pointers, picked up 10 technical fouls while playing 54 games in his seventh NBA season.
The at-times volatile forward, though, proved crucial to Boston’s late-season success, as the team finished second in the Eastern Conference, despite losing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to injury. Morris averaged 18.8 points and shot 46.7% from 3-point range in March, as the Celtics went 9-3 and closed the month on a 6-game winning streak.
“It’s great,” Boston All-Star forward Al Horford said of Morris’ fiery nature, “and the Playoffs bring that out of you even more. We have a lot of guys on this team with an edge and Marcus is just more expressive about his. But we’re happy about that.”
The Celtics play Milwaukee in the first round.
Joel Embiid — Philadelphia
A freak on-court mishap, when rookie guard Markelle Fultz accidentally slammed into his much larger (and more important) teammate, Joel Embiid, left Philadelphia’s starting center with a fractured orbital bone near his left eye and a concussion.
Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular season as a result and isn’t expected to play in the Sixers’ first playoff game since 2012, coach Brett Brown revealed Friday morning on The Dan Patrick Show.
It’s unclear exactly how soon Embiid will re-join the lineup for Philadelphia’s first-round matchup with Miami, but when he does he will wear a mask for protection. The entertaining center unveiled his new black mask earlier this week during pre-game warm-ups, dubbing himself “The Phantom of The Process”
Philadelphia attained the East’s No. 3 seed by winning its final 16 games of the regular season, but 13 of those came against non-playoff teams. The Sixers need their temporarily disguised face of the franchise back to advance in the playoffs.
In his first campaign without a season-ending injury, Embiid played 63 games and averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks. He’ll almost certainly garner all-defensive team and all-NBA honors. The sooner he returns the better for Philadelphia.
Andrew Wiggins and Cole Aldrich — Minnesota
Perhaps still riding the high of helping Minnesota put an end to a 13-season playoff drought, Andrew Wiggins didn’t sound overly concerned about his team’s chances as a No. 8 seed matched up against the West’s best, Houston, in the first round.
“They’re a great team, best record in the league. But we can beat anybody, and I believe that,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Wiggins’ production dropped off in his fourth season, with the arrival of all-star Jimmy Butler. Wiggins became the clear No. 3 option, behind Butler and big man Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins averaged 17.7 points and shot 43.8% from the floor and 33.1% on 3-pointers — down from 23.6 points, 45.2% FGs and 35.6% 3-pointers the year before.
“I mean, I got through it,” Wiggins said, when asked to describe his season, “and it was all about the bigger picture and now we’re in the playoffs.”
The T’wolves have to get Wiggins, Towns and Butler firing on all cylinders to have a shot against Houston, an offensive juggernaut thanks to the versatility of star guards James Harden and Chris Paul.
One player who likely won’t factor into the series’ outcome, is former KU center Cole Aldrich. The Minnesota native appeared in only 21 games during the regular season, logging double-digit minutes just once.
Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington
Missing its would-be all-star point guard for half the season kept Washington from reaching its expected residence in the top half of the Eastern Conference, but Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr. and their teammates did just enough in John Wall’s absence to keep the Wizards in the playoff hunt.
Fortunately for all of them, the worst teams in the East didn’t put up much of a fight, either. Wall returned on the final day of March, but the Wizards lost five of their last seven in that span. Prior to that they lost six of their last nine without Wall.
All of it added up to a team with talent and promise settling for the No. 8 seed in the East and a first-round meeting with No. 1 Toronto.
Does a Wizards upset seem even remotely feasible? Not the way they’ve played lately. Better-than-average contributions from role players Morris (11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 36.7% 3-point shooting) and Oubre (11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 34.1% 3-point shooting) certainly would help their chances against the best and deepest team the Raptors have ever had.
Cheick Diallo — New Orleans
After his NCAA Tournament debut at KU two years ago, Cheick Diallo marveled at how “easy” it was for him versus Austin Peay. Here’s guessing the 6-9 forward, now with New Orleans, won’t make a similar assessment of the NBA Playoffs as the sixth-seeded Pelicans battle the West’s No. 3 seed, Portland.
Diallo has done relatively well for himself since becoming a second-round draft pick in 2016. He’s not a key member of New Orleans’ rotation by any means, but the reserve typically played between 10 to 15 minutes in competitive games versus playoff-level competition during March and April.
The second-year backup enters his playoff opener having averaged 4.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 11.2 minutes for a New Orleans team that doesn’t require much help inside due to the presence of superstar Anthony Davis.
Tarik Black — Houston
The good news for Tarik Black is he plays for Houston, which finished with the best record in the NBA (65-17). The bad news is the backup big man doesn’t get much run.
The Rockets’ dominance meant Black started as key players rested in the regular-season finale. The 6-9 post player turned the rare opportunity into a double-double, producing 12 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Sacramento.
But don’t expect to see nearly as much — if any — of Black as Houston makes its playoff push, beginning with Minnesota in the first round. He did not play a minute in nine of the Rockets’ final 21 games. Black averaged 3.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 10.5 minutes this season, appearing in 51 games.
Nick Collison — Oklahoma City
The resident old man of KU basketball alumni, 37-year old Nick Collison might not check in for Oklahoma City until a game is all but decided. Not that you would ever hear the 14th-year forward complain.
A favorite of OKC fans and superstar guard Russell Westbrook alike, Collison (5.0 minutes a game this season) remains with the organization for leadership and stability in the locker room. He’ll primarily watch from the bench and interject knowledge when needed as the Thunder take on Utah in the first round.
Whether it comes against the Jazz or later in the playoffs, if it gets to a point where OKC is on the brink of elimination at home, don’t be surprised to see Collison play out the final minutes on the floor. It could be a farewell appearance, as he plans to contemplate retirement once the Thunder’s season ends.
When Joel Embiid arrived in Los Angeles for the NBA’s 2018 All-Star Weekend, the biggest achievement of his career to date brought to mind the not-so-long-ago state of his basketball existence.
Foot surgeries and the resulting rehab robbed Embiid of two full seasons after Philadelphia made him the No. 3 overall pick out of Kansas in the 2014 draft. Now he’s clearly one of the league’s top big men.
“It’s really special. You guys called me a bust when I missed those two years,” a smiling Embiid told reporters ahead of starting for Team Stephen in Sunday night’s showcase. “But I worked really hard and went through a lot, missing those two years, losing my brother (Arthur, who died in 2014). I wanted to quit basketball, and it was hard being away from the court. But I’m glad I just kept pushing.”
The first player to represent KU in the all-star game since Paul Pierce in 2012 and the first Jayhawk to start in one since Wilt Chamberlain in 1973, Embiid looked right at home. The Sixers center scored 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting, grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in 20 minutes.
It wasn’t two-time NBA MVP and team captain Stephen Curry or scoring machine James Harden, but the versatile 76ers center who produced the game’s first basket, throwing down a two-handed jam and drawing a foul for a quick three points. Embiid kept it going shortly thereafter with a smooth jumper outside the right elbow, giving him the first 5 points in a matchup of the world’s elite basketball players.
Sixers fans, coaches and management might have cringed a little when Embiid collided with LeBron James while going up for a defensive rebound in the first quarter, but the 76ers big with an injury history survived just fine.
Following a lengthy break on the bench, Embiid returned in the second quarter to deliver one of the first half’s oohs-and-ahhhs-inspiring sequences. The center, in a span of seconds, splashed a 3-pointer from a few feet behind the arc, then got back on defense to deny Russell Westbrook of a layup, with a blocked shot at the rim.
“That’s the age of the new NBA,” Curry said during a halftime interview on TNT, when asked about Embiid both providing some spacing on the floor and protecting the rim. “Everybody can stretch the limits a little bit, and he’s one of them. I like to see it. I like his confidence, I like his swagger and I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Averaging 23.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 31.4 minutes during his second season with Philadelphia, Embiid remained active in the second half, coming through with an easy dunk and his second 3-pointer of the night in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
After observing for another long stretch, Embiid returned to a one-possession game with 4:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Always assertive offensively, the extended rest didn’t impact his approach. Embiid scored a reverse lay-in over Kevin Durant with 3:10 to play, giving Team Stephen a three-point advantage.
Near the 2:00 mark, following a defensive switch, Embiid navigated a one-on-one with Kyrie Irving successfully on the perimeter, contesting a missed 3-pointer. On offense, he proceeded to attack LeBron James from the high post and bank in a little right-handed jump-hook for a 144-141 lead.
Although James quickly got his revenge in the form of a game-tying 3-pointer over the Philly center, in the final minute Embiid didn’t let Paul George score a go-ahead layup on his watch, blocking the Oklahoma City forward inside.
With Team LeBron using no traditional big men in crunch time, Draymond Green replaced Embiid with 40 seconds left. Team Curry, put Embiid back on the floor for the final offensive possession, but couldn’t get off a would-be game-tying 3-pointer. Team LeBron won 148-145 and James, with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists, took home the MVP trophy.
It was a busy weekend for Embiid, the 7-foot-2 center from Cameroon, who made a brief appearance in the Rising Stars exhibition on Friday, scoring 5 points in 8 minutes.
The 23-year-old said beforehand he didn’t want to play too much in that game made up of first- and second-year players, preferring instead to let the “young guys” shine.
Some wondered how much a sore ankle that sidelined Embiid in the Sixers’ final game before the all-star break would limit him in L.A. But Embiid, who said the words “minutes restriction” don’t exist for him in Philadelphia anymore, competed in Saturday’s Skills Challenge, too.
After beating Boston’s Al Horford in a race up and down the court that incorporated dribbling, passing and shooting, Embiid lost out on a chance at the event’s final round when Chicago rookie Lauri Markkanen knocked him out.
The first two nights didn’t carry the prestige of Sunday’s main event. So it was no surprise the driven Embiid used that stage, playing with and against the NBA’s best, to really flash his array of abilities.
Not that all-star appearances are the measure Embiid plans on using to gauge his career success.
“Now that I’m here I’ve still got a long way to go,” Embiid said during his first of what could be many all-star weekends as the face of the Sixers. “I’m not anywhere close to where I want to get. But now that I’m here it’s sweeter being an all-star starter, too, for the first time. So I’m excited.”
When Joel Embiid makes his NBA All-Star debut in a few weeks, he will do so as a temporary teammate of two-time league MVP and two-time champion Stephen Curry.
Golden State’s 3-point-shooting savant, as the leading vote-getter in the Western Conference, earned a captainship opposite the East’s most popular superstar, LeBron James. The two perennial all-stars and NBA Finals opponents spent a portion of their Thursday afternoon drafting their teammates — a new twist on the league’s annual February showcase.
Where exactly Embiid, the 7-foot-2 Philadelphia center and former Kansas standout, fell in the pecking order isn’t widely known at this point. The NBA opted not to televise the all-star draft this year (more on that later). All we know for sure is James had the first pick and both he and Curry had to select from a pool of starters — as voted on by fans, media and players —before picking up any of the reserves — chosen by the league’s coaches.
Embiid will take the floor with not only Curry, Feb. 18, in Los Angeles, but also Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan. The “Team Stephen” starters will open up the exhibition at Staples Center versus “Team LeBron,” featuring Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyrie Irving.
Considering Harden and Antetokounmpo are two of the premier players in the NBA, it’s safe to guess Curry selected Embiid fourth or fifth overall.
While the lineups will fluctuate greatly during the course of the game it should be entertaining to watch Embiid try to take on New Orleans bigs Davis and Cousins for stretches. But look for the Sixers’ star to really put in work when he gazes across the court and sees Kristaps Porzingis headed his way. Embiid beat out the New York star for the final available front court starting spot in the East, prompting Porzingis to tell reporters, “players know,” he should have been a starter over Embiid, referencing his peers casting more votes for the Knicks’ unicorn than Philly’s trash-talking center.
Curry, speaking with TNT’s Ernie Johnson on NBA Tip-Off, referenced Embiid’s personality and social media prowess when reviewing the teammates he picked.
“Joel’s obviously gonna be a future all-star for plenty more years, and this is his first go-round,” Curry said. “Maybe one day that weekend he’ll take over my Twitter account and say some jokes for me or something.”
Fans and followers of the NBA would’ve enjoyed the chance to watch Curry and James take turns deciding the all-star rosters, perhaps groaning when the other selected someone before his opponent had a chance to swoop in or talking trash about which team looked more devastating.
And you know Embiid — averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.9 blocks to go with 49.1% shooting — would have plenty to say after the fact about where he did or didn’t go during the draft.
We might get to see all of that and more play out in 2019. James said on TNT after the teams were unveiled: “This thing should’ve been televised.”
Curry agreed, and said while the process was cool behind closed doors, “Hopefully we’ll both be captains again and we can broadcast it to the world in real time.”
The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported there was enough “union pushback” from the NBA’s players to inspire the league to not televise or stream the all-star draft this year.
The National Basketball Players Association released the following statement to SB Nation on the matter:
“It was the absence of a consensus by prospective players likely to be affected that led to support for a reveal (instead of a televised draft). Whether a decision to broadcast the draft will be made after this year’s game, that will be determined going forward.”
TEAM STEPHEN | Starters: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and DeMar DeRozan. Reserves: Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns and Al Horford.
TEAM LEBRON | Starters: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyrie Irving. Reserves: Bradley Beal, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Kristaps Porzingis and John Wall.
2 All-Star Weekend appearances for Embiid
In addition to starting in All-Star Weekend’s main event, Embiid will also play in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge — a showcase for first- and second-year players — two nights earlier.
With rosters split up by nationality, Embiid will join Team World against Team United States. Just as in the actual All-Star Game, Embiid will be the only former Kansas player in action.
Embiid was slated to play in the Rising Stars game a year ago, but missed it due to injury. The 23-year-old played in only 31 games during 2016-17, his debut season.
Thus far in his second year, Embiid has played in 35 of the 76ers’ 44 games. Philly is 21-14 when he plays, and 2-7 when Embiid sits.
For the first time since Wilt Chamberlain’s final season, in 1973, the NBA’s All-Star Game will feature a Kansas Jayhawk in the starting lineup.
The league announced the five starters from each conference Thursday evening, and second-year center Joel Embiid landed the third frontcourt position in the East.
Cleveland mega-star LeBron James led all Eastern Conference players, with more than 2.6 million fan votes, followed by Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had more than 2.5 million. But Embiid, with more than 1.2 million fan votes beat out New York’s Kristaps Porzingis in that category. The selection process also incorporated media and player voting. Embiid finished third in voting among those who cover the NBA, as well, while his peers only provided him with 94 player votes, six behind Porzingis’s 100.
Embiid won’t necessarily team up with “King James” and “The Greek Freak,” though, at next month’s exhibition, in Los Angeles. A new format for the annual spectacle will have a captain — the leading vote-getter — from each conference draft a team of his choosing. After all 12 all-stars from each conference are unveiled, James and Golden State’s Steph Curry will select their teammates, beginning with the pool of starters that were announced Thursday.
Here are the starters from each conference: James, Antetokounmpo, Embiid, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRosan, from the East; Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, from the West.
Reserves are voted upon by NBA head coaches and will be announced Tuesday. This coming Thursday, the rosters, as drafted by James and Curry, will be unveiled.
Embiid is the first all-star from Kansas since Paul Pierce, who last made it in 2012. Pierce was a 10-time NBA All-Star but never voted a starter.
Plagued by injuries from the time Philadelphia drafted him third overall in 2014, Embiid already this season has matched his total games played from his rookie campaign a year ago (31).
Embiid’s 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 blocks in 31.3 minutes a game make him one of the NBA’s elite centers and an easy choice to represent the Sixers at All-Star Weekend.
When ESPN announced young Philadelphia star Joel Embiid would appear on “First Take,” one had to hope it would mean a one-on-one debate between the charismatic big man and the daily morning show’s rambunctious personality, Stephen A. Smith.
Instead, on Friday’s episode, Smith simply fired questions that Embiid answered. No impassioned arguments. No chances for “Tro-el” Embiid to roast the polarizing sports TV debater.
Sill, the segment provided the 23-year-old face of the 76ers to talk a big game, as he is accustomed to doing.
Smith asked Embiid whether he agrees with assessments from those observers who consider him the best big man in the NBA. Of course, the second-year center from Kansas agreed.
“Yeah, definitely. Especially when you look at the way I play the game,” said Embiid, averaging 23.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 blocks entering Friday night’s game versus Oklahoma City. “I mean, I feel like offensively I can do everything — be a play-maker, score the ball, set up my teammates. And defensively, I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league. So I just try to do my job, and then at the end of the day it’s all about winning. As long as we win games I think it helps me.”
The Sixers (14-13) have created buzz throughout the season’s first couple of months, with Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons forming an intriguing one-two punch.
When Embiid thinks about teaming with the 21-year-old, 6-10 point guard from Australia for years to come, he envisions greatness.
“Obviously it’s going to take a lot of growing pains and a lot of learning to do, and I think we’ve been doing a great job as far as learning how to play with each other,” Embiid said. “But I think we have the potential to be like one of the most dominant duos ever. So we’ve just got to keep working together. We’re both so young, and I love playing with him — I’m sure he loves playing with me, too — so I think we have great potential.”
Off the court, Embiid has picked up fans, as well, thanks to his sense of humor. Smith, naturally, had to ask about Embiid’s social media interactions with various opponents.
“First of all, I don’t ever start things,” Embiid said. “People might not know that. It may start in a game with guys being extra-physical and just talking. I’m just going with the flow. I’m like, ‘Oh, you want to talk? You want to talk ----? Well, I’m gonna kick your ---.' I mean, I never start things. … If you want those problems, that’s your fault.”
That prompted Smith to pitch a slogan for Embiid: “How do y’all like this? You start problems with The Process, The Process is gonna handle you.”
The big man’s assessment allowed him to clown Smith the way he might an opposing center:
“Umm… I liked that, but I think we can do much better than that.”
— Watch a portion of Embiid’s “First Take” interview below.