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.
With so many Jayhwaks making a living in the NBA it’s not difficult on any given day to find a box score with a former Kansas basketball standout appearing for each team. But Tuesday night’s schedule provided a pair of reunions for one-time KU teammates who likely always will be tied together.
The brightest star associated with Kansas, Joel Embiid and his Sixers beat Andrew Wiggins’ Timberwolves in overtime, and one hard-nosed rookie picked up a win over another in Sacramento, where Frank Mason III’s Kings prevailed over Josh Jackson’s Suns.
Embiid’s greatness beamed down the stretch in Minneapolis, as he put up 28 points, 12 rebounds and a career-best 8 assists. Per ESPN, the last 76er center to hit those numbers in those categories was another famous Jayhawk, Wilt Chamberlain.
But Embiid’s individual production, he told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt during a post-game interview, wasn’t what made him most proud about the night.
“We fought back,” Embiid said of a game that featured several lead changes in the fourth quarter, before Philadelphia won in OT, when Embiid scored the first basket of the extra period and later nailed a 3-pointer to extend the lead to seven. “We went down in the fourth and then we (faced) some adversity and we won the game.”
The Sixers, so often maligned the past several years for not competing with the rest of the league, improved to 14-13 on the year and 7-7 on the road.
“We’re getting better. We’ve got a lot of growing to do. We’ve been doing a better job, especially this year,” Embiid told Van Pelt, adding his first three seasons with the organization — two of which he missed with injuries — were tough to swallow. “To be in this type of position where we can actually go into the game and know that we have a chance to win and we’re going to win is always great.”
One wouldn’t have known it from Embiid’s near triple-double in a career-high 39 minutes, but some back soreness forced him to miss Philly’s two previous games — road losses at New Orleans and Cleveland — and he was a game-time decision against Minnesota.
“I missed the last two games and I don’t want to be that guy who’s always missing games,” said Embiid, who has played in 22 of 27 this year. “So I pushed through and we got the win. I’m excited to go back home and get some more wins.”
Though fourth-year forward Wiggins has proven far more durable than Embiid, he didn’t impact the game as much as his fellow Jayhawk this night. Wiggins shot 8-for-24 from the floor and 1-for-7 on 3-pointers, while scoring 20 points and grabbing seven boards.
His most impressive highlight came when he stole a bad Embiid pass and scored over the 7-foot-2 center.
The Timberwolves dropped to 16-12 but currently occupy the No. 4 slot in the Western Conference standings. Philly (14-13) is tied with Detroit and New York for the seventh-best record in the East.
Unlike Embiid and Wiggins, neither Mason nor Jackson are likely to make their playoff debuts this season.
But Mason stayed on his recent upward trend, playing more minutes than Kings lottery pick De’Aaron Fox versus Phoenix.
Mason only shot 2-for-8 and scored 6 points, but he also contributed 4 rebounds, 4 assists and even a blocked shot of Suns guard Tyler Ullis.
The rookie backup point guard’s plus/minus of +9 was the second-best in Sacramento’s box score, and he played the entire fourth quarter of the Kings’ win.
Jackson, meanwhile, had one of the worst shooting nights of his young career, going 3-for-14, while scoring 7 points and adding 5 boards and 2 assists in 30 minutes, in his seventh start.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft is averaging 9.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists, and shooting 38.5% from the floor and 23.9% on 3-pointers (17-for-71).
In some alternate reality where Joel Embiid wasn’t one of the more dangerous players in the NBA with the ball in his hands, the 7-foot-2 center from Cameroon would still be playing for Bill Self inside Allen Fieldhouse. Just ask him.
That idea seemed more realistic to Embiid when he arrived in Lawrence, in 2013, than his current existence. As the entertaining Philadelphia center detailed recently on The J.J. Redick Podcast for The Ringer (NSFW, so throw on some headphones), he played J.V. basketball during his junior year of high school, so a redshirt season at Kansas didn’t exactly fall into the category of absurd.
As we all know, though, Embiid’s basketball career arc instead took on an unthinkable path, making him a one-and-done big man who went No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft, far ahead of the 2017-18 KU basketball season, his would-be redshirt senior year.
Crazy as it may sound, the second-year pro who takes averages of 23.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 blocks for the 76ers into Monday’s game against Phoenix, still doesn’t feel as though he has made it in the NBA — even though he looked like he belonged from his very first game.
“I get to the league. I miss two years. I lose my brother (Arthur, who died in 2014), so I go through a lot,” Embiid explained to Redick. “And when that time came for me to come back on the court and play my first game — I think my first game I played like 24 minutes — and, mind you, in college I wasn’t a scorer. I was just rebounding the ball, blocking shots, pretty good defensively, offensively regular hook shot, like typical big man.
“My first game I think I scored 20 points in 24 minutes (actually 22). And that’s when I figured out, ‘Hey, it’s easy.’ It’s not easy to thrive in the league or score in the league,” Embiid clarified. “And I was playing against Steven Adams, a big dude, like really good defensively.”
Embiid has teamed with rookie Ben Simmons to get formerly woeful Philadelphia out to a 13-9 start — Redick referred to both young players as Philly’s “superstars.” The big man whose career took off at Kansas said he has not yet in the NBA experienced a moment where he feels like he’s “really ----ing good, like top-five player in the league.”
However, there are certain times on the court when Embiid pulls off, say, a Hakeem Olajuwon-worthy “Dream shake,” and he thinks “Did I just do this?” The 23-year-old phenom said those instances inspire him.
“That just shows me I’ve got so much more to work on and so much more to show,” he said.
Redick asked his teammate why scoring a career-high 46 points a few weeks back against the Lakers didn’t make him feel as though he had arrived and whether it will take a championship to achieve that.
“I definitely want to win. I think everybody around me knows I’m competitive,” Embiid said, “and I play while I’m hurt, I play while I’m sick, I push myself just because I want to help the team win. The 46-point game, I wouldn’t consider that a big moment, because I didn’t feel like I was hot. I didn’t feel like I was just making shots all over the place. I was just playing basketball.”
The iso possessions, post-ups and “regular moves” Embiid pulled off that night, he explained, didn’t mean he was on fire.
“It wasn’t like I was Klay Thompson or Steph Curry.”
Embiid, of course, isn’t just known in the NBA for his incredible abilities or missing the first two seasons of his career due to injuries. Philadelphia’s outgoing big man also has turned into a social media king. Sometimes he even feels inspired to call out some opposing post player he just cooked on Twitter and/or Instagram.
“Usually I just want to go out there, have fun, play basketball and dominate. But guys usually have a tendency to have something against me, so they will be extra-physical or they will just like talking trash to me. And it just elevates my game even more and makes me want to dominate them,” Embiid said. “It makes me want to kick their ---. So I can go on social media later and basically talk ----.
“That’s what I did… It’s all fun. To me I’m just trying to have fun. But these guys, I guess, they get their feelings hurt and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Embiid added. “But at the end of the day it’s all fun and if you want to take it off the court and keep beefing that’s your problem.”
While centers such as Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond have fallen victim to Embiid’s on- and off-court exploits, the most infamous social media attack came against LaVar Ball, father of the Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, and notorious Big Baller Brand campaigner.
Embiid said he marked his calendar for the Sixers’ game at L.A., in which he went off for 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks, after LaVar Ball went on the radio in Philadelphia and criticized Embiid and the 76ers organization. The Sixers center said he’s actually “a big fan” of Lonzo Ball but was inspired for more obvious reasons.
“I couldn’t wait to play, just to show the Lakers fans and LaVar that I can actually play. I don’t think he was at the game, but I’m sure he saw that I could actually play,” Embiid said. “I just had to take a shot after the game and — not call him out, but basically have fun.”
As he likes to do, Embiid found a location on Instagram — Lavar, Fars, Iran — that referenced his prey after proving himself.
Redick had to ask his fun-loving teammate: is he a social media troll?
“Fans do it to us, so why not?” Embiid replied. “I feel like I can troll, too, so I’m going to do it.”
Joel Embiid once again reminded the NBA of his massive potential Wednesday night in Los Angeles, where Philadelphia’s 7-foot-2 phenom cooked the Lakers for a a career-best performance.
Still in just his second season out of Kansas, Embiid’s new personal bests of 46 points, seven assists, seven blocks, 14 made field goals, 16 made free throws and 19 free-throw attempts — the do-it-all center grabbed 15 rebounds, too — fueled a 115-109 road win for the Sixers, who improved to 8-6 on the season.
“I was just playing basketball basically,” Embiid told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. “They just kept throwing the ball to me in the post. And I kept finding new ways to score the ball and I went to the free-throw line. That’s where I was best at last year. I felt like today I did a great job.”
Added the confident 23-year-old: “And with me using different moves and attacking them, they didn’t really know what to do.”
Most teams fall into that category of getting lost trying to stop Embiid. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the multi-skilled big man, who also shot 2-for-3 from 3-point range versus the Lakers, is the league’s best post-up player. He averages 8.6 points a night on post-ups in a modern NBA moving away low-block one-on-ones as an offensive staple.
Joel Embiid has been the @NBA's most prolific post up scorer by a significant margin, here's a closer look at the league's top back to the basket threats, 4 of whom also make 1+ 3-pointer per game. pic.twitter.com/LtW2Tb9VFE— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) November 16, 2017
Per Synergy, Embiid shoots 60 percent when single-covered in the post.
In his post-game television interview — after stopping to show some love to Philadelphia’s smallest big fan, Kevin Hart — Embiid said staying assertive keyed his ridiculous production.
“I did the same thing against the Clippers,” Philly’s biggest big said, referencing a 32-point, 16-rebound night two days earlier in which the man known most for missing games due to injuries and having his playing time restricted tallied a career-high 36 minutes. “I just wanted to come out and get down low and be a beast down there.”
Embiid, who had to spend the majority of his offseason resting and recovering from a knee injury said he still isn’t up to speed from a conditioning standpoint, and estimated he is at about 69 percent on that front a little more than a month into the season.
That’s a frightening idea for the rest of the league, considering what Embiid and likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons already are doing to teams.
“It’s just not us, you’ve got to put it on our teammates, too,” Embiid said, crediting Robert Covington and J.J. Redick, as well as coach Brett Brown and his staff.
The Sixers, so bad for so long throughout “The Process” that landed them Embiid, Simmons and currently injured No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, have won seven of their last nine games.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Embiid said.
The 23-year-old from Cameroon became the first NBA player with 40-plus points, seven-plus assists and seven-plus blocks in a game since another Sixers legend, Julius Erving, did it in 1982.
Embiid, averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 51.6-percent shooting this year, in 29.0 minutes, has played in just 43 games over the course of the past two seasons after missing his first two seasons due to injuries.
His health remains the biggest “if” in the NBA. But if Embiid can put those devastating injuries that sideline him for months behind him (everyone knock on the closest piece of wood you can find), he looks to be on a trajectory to become one of the league’s most dominating players.
It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.
Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.
Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
5. Markieff Morris
Now that he and twin brother Marcus have been acquitted of aggravated assault in a case dating back to their old F.O.E. stomping grounds in Phoenix, Markieff Morris can get back to plugging into one of the NBA’s most cohesive starting lineups, in Washington.
A hernia could have the Wizards’ Morris out for another month or so, and guards John Wall and Bradley Beal will be glad to have the 6-foot-10 forward back in the mix when he’s healthy again. In 2016-17, his sixth professional season and first full go-round with Washington, Morris put up 14.0 points on 45.7-percent shooting, and achieved career-highs with 71 3-pointers and 36.2-percent accuracy from downtown, as well as new personal bests of 6.5 rebounds per game and 83.7-percent shooting at the free-throw line.
Morris’ teammates love him for his diverse skill set, but also his toughness and trash-talking. They’ll miss all of those as he watches the first few weeks of the season from the bench. But Morris assured The Washington Post they’ll still hear from him while he rehabs his way back to full health.
“I’m a student of the game already, so I just want to give them input on what I see out there,” Morris said. “Still talk my lil’ [expletive] to the other team.”
4. Marcus Morris
A crazy NBA offseason, filled with waves of transactions and trades, landed Marcus Morris with one of twin brother Markieff’s least favorite opponents, the Boston Celtics.
No, Marcus’s wonder-twin powers haven’t hampered him with hernia sympathy pains for Markieff, but like his brother the Celtics’ Morris begins the season on the mend. Knee soreness kept the former Rocket, Sun and Piston out of Boston’s lineup in its first two games.
It could be a week or two until Morris makes his Celtics debut, according to what coach Brad Stevens told ESPN. Because the Morris twins’ assault trial kept Marcus out for a chunk of training camp, Stevens said the team wants to effectively extend his preseason after the likely starting forward played in just one exhibition.
"I think we're going to be a better basketball team with Marcus available, but he's not," Stevens told ESPN. "We're going to need other people to step up."
Morris made a career-high 118 3-pointers in his final season with the Pistons, but made just 33.1 percent from deep. He averaged 14.0 points, 4.6 boards and 2.0 assists a year ago, and Boston will need even more production from him than expected after all-star Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific leg injury in the season-opener, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his tibia.
3. Andrew Wiggins
Still just 22 years old with years of upside in front of him, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins looks to be fixture in Minnesota’s bright future after signing a five-year, $148 million extension before the season started.
Despite averaging 23.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and making a career-best 35.6 percent of his 3-pointers in his third season, Wiggins often caught flack for not doing more than scoring. He was accused of falling far short of his defensive potential, as a 6-8 wing with the bounce and wingspan to become devastating on that end of the floor.
Now that Wiggins is in his second year in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and has all-star wing Jimmy Butler to learn from, the young Canadian could be close to making a significant leap as a pro.
Wiggins looked like a surefire NBA-level defender in his one season playing for Bill Self at KU. So far he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. If/when he does and learns how to become a more active rebounder and willing passer, Minnesota will be thankful.
It’s not all going to come together overnight or even over the course of one season. But Wiggins still has the majority of his career ahead of him and the potential — and time — to develop into a special player.
2. Josh Jackson
In a loaded rookie draft class, Josh Jackson was passed over by Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston. The 6-foot-8 forward might have been too much of a questionable shooter to go in the top three picks, but Jackson also possesses the type of personality that could enable him to spend the rest of his career making those teams regret their decisions.
After one particular preseason display, Phoenix head coach Earl Watson compared the 20-year-old Jackson to the rookie-year version one of the league’s most fiery competitors, now reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.
“Very exciting to watch,” Watson told AZCentral.com. “Shooting the ball great from (3-point range). We knew that would eventually would happen. It’s before we thought it would happen. And sometimes, like Russ, it leads to turnovers. Reminds me of Russ but his future is bright. We want to encourage him to see the game. He moves so fast. Just slow down and make decisions.”
To Watson’s point, Jackson averaged 4.8 turnovers per exhibition in the preseason with a turnover percentage of 27.4% according to RealGM.com. A mature basketball prospect aware of his flaws, Jackson told AZCentral.com he quickly has learned the NBA is “more of a thinking game” than what he encountered in the college ranks.
“A lot of my turnovers have come from not being able to read what the defense is doing and trying to force a play when it wasn’t there,” Jackson said. “You can still play fast while doing all those things at the same time.”
The Suns love Jackson’s awareness and potential, and envision him as a possible future star to pair with young 2-guard Devin Booker. Between his defense, floor vision and ability to create and finish, Jackson’s rookie season figures to be a blast for Phoenix fans to watch, even though his flashes will come on a young team destined to lose a ton of games.
In his NBA debut Wednesday night, Jackson scored11 points on 4-for-10 shooting, to go with two rebounds. He didn’t record a turnover or an assist in a 124-76 home loss to Portland.
1. Joel Embiid
One of the most intriguing players in the league due to his checkered past of injuries and seemingly unlimited potential when he’s actually on the floor, Joel Embiid could be an all-star this year.
Or he could suffer another setback that makes him irrelevant to Philadelphia’s wins and losses. No one knows for sure and that’s a large part of what makes every step of the 7-foot-2 phenom’s story so fascinating.
The guy is a showman and as talented a center as the league may see for years to come. What’s more, even he is sick of the restrictions the 76ers have placed on his availability over the past year-plus as they try to protect their investment.
Prior to his team’s season-opener, with the organization expecting to play Embiid fewer than 20 minutes, the typically happy big called that idea “----ing b------t" a week removed from signing an extension with the Sixers.
Sure enough, Philadelphia trusted “The Process.” Embiid started versus Washington on opening night and played 27 minutes — still a restriction, for certain, but on par with his playing-time plan as a rookie, before his season ended at 31 games. The face of the franchise, in a 120-115 loss, shot 7-for-15 from the floor, scored 18 points, snatched 13 rebounds, dished three assists and blocked a shot.
If Philadelphia — and the NBA as a whole — is fortunate, Embiid will stay healthy enough over the next six months to continue to flourish and maybe even lead a long-suffering franchise back to the playoffs.
When he’s playing, Embiid qualifies as one of the league’s must-watch talents.
By now, you surely all have heard about the massive contract signed by former Kansas center Joel Embiid, who on Monday inked a five-year, $148 million contract to stay with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Not bad for a guy who has played in just 31 NBA games since leaving Kansas as the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Granted, those 31 games produced some pretty impressive results — 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists per game — and nearly led to Embiid being named the rookie of the year last season despite the small sample size.
And those numbers, while solid, don’t even tell half of the story as the former KU standout whose college career ended early because of injury has rejuvenated an entire franchise and city and become a sort of cult hero across the country for his skills, confidence and never-ending social media presence that has provided some of the best NBA entertainment of the past three seasons.
But forget for a second about his game or the future. The big question now that Embiid has signed the deal is simple: Was he worth it?
The NBA world seems to be mixed in its response and who could blame anyone for questioning whether that kind of max deal, which, according to reports, could grow to as much as $178 million by the end of it, is the right move for an oft-injured player such as Embiid.
There’s no question that when he’s healthy and on the floor, Embiid is a game changer, the kind of player you can build a team around and ride to enormous heights.
But staying healthy has been a struggle and, with that frame and the way he uses such explosive movements to play the game, it’s certainly fair to question whether he will remain healthy and become the player the Sixers need him to and hope he will become.
With Embiid and the Sixers slated to be in Kansas City, Mo., for an exhibition game on Friday night, this topic certainly figures to be hot around this area for at least the next few days.
And while the Sixers did include some language in the contract that offers them some measure of protection against injury, it’s still a massive commitment for a player who, as of today, has to be considered at least somewhat of a question mark.
To that end, here’s my favorite recap of the Embiid situation, from Paul Flannery at SB Nation, who spells out the five appropriate responses to Embiid’s contract extension.
It seems as if Flannery covered all of the emotions and opinions that many had after hearing the news about the extension, but, knowing Embiid, it’s certainly possible that his career path will take us on an unexpected journey that nobody has talked about thus far. You know, like him playing point guard or becoming Philly’s player-coach.
Anything is possible with The Process.
Let's just hope that most of what we see during the next five years is Embiid on the court wowing the world with his skills and ability and earning every dime of that lucrative contract.
If you ever wondered what former Kansas big man Joel Embiid would look like in George R. R. Martin’s fictional world of Westeros, you now have your answer — in cartoon form at least.
Finally, after four seasons worth of parodies, BleacherReport’s NBA-meets-“Game of Thrones” mash-up is trusting the process.
On the latest episode of “Game of Zones,” posted Thursday at BleacherReport.com, Embiid plays a central role as the popular online video series pokes fun at the Philadelphia 76ers’ run of tanking and selecting big man after big man near the top of the draft.
While Embiid missed most of his twice-delayed-by-a-year rookie season with more injury setbacks, he is expected to be back on the floor next season. If his ‘Game of Zones’ persona is true to life at all, some Shirley Temples should help speed up the 7-foot-2 prodigy’s latest recovery.
Embiid and the Sixers will find out at the league’s inaugural NBA Awards, on June 26, whether his 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in just 25.4 minutes a game (in only 31 games) was enough for him to win Rookie of the Year.
In the meantime, enjoy Embiid’s likeness in “Game of Zones.”