A heel injury sidelined Frank Mason III for 21 games, but the rookie point guard out of Kansas finally returned to the Sacramento lineup Thursday night.
Playing, for now, on a minutes restriction, Mason provided glimpses of what the Kings can expect out of him the remainder of the season. And, unlike when he last played in late December, Mason now can feel like a real part of his team’s plans.
With no realistic shot of making the playoffs, coach Dave Joerger and the organization made a shift in January, deciding to give more minutes to Sacramento’s youngest players in the final months of the season. While Mason was injured, the Kings traded away veteran point guard George Hill, too, leaving the roster with just two true point guards: Mason and lottery pick De’Aaron Fox.
Eighth-year guard Garrett Temple started in place of an ailing Fox, who missed Thursday’s game, against Oklahoma City. But the Kings clearly were trying to avoid putting too much on Mason too soon.
The second-round pick from KU had a modest return, giving the Kings 6 points (1-for-3 shooting, 4 of 4 free throws) and 2 assists with no turnovers in close to 16 minutes.
Mason watched the first 8:59 of the first quarter from the bench, before checking in to be greeted with cheers from the home crowd, but also a 22-point deficit.
It didn’t take long for Mason to look comfortable, surveying the floor on the move and finding Buddy Hield wide open for a 3-pointer within a minute of joining the action.
The rookie point guard flashed his speed in the opening minute of the second quarter, sprinting down an inattentive Alex Abrines to smack away the Thunder guard’s dribble on a fast break for a steal that prevented a layup.
Soon after, Mason added another assist by, predictably, being way too fast off the dribble for OKC veteran Raymond Felton to handle him. Mason drove to the paint, forced the defense to help and knew all along he had Hield standing on the opposite wing, waiting to knock down another open 3-pointer.
Pushing in transition on the next possession, Mason again attacked Felton, getting past him, but had to alter his layup into a difficult reverse when Patrick Patterson caught up to help. The lay-in wouldn’t fall but Mason’s aggressive approach benefited the Kings as Skal Labissiere was able to tip it in.
Mason checked out with 8:22 left in the first half and his team down 16 points. The margin had been erased and Sacramento led by 5 by the time the Kings’ reserve ball handler next checked in, with 10:27 remaining in the fourth.
Trusted for seven minutes worth of running the team in a tight game, even though he was coming off an injury, Mason helped Sacramento maintain its lead. Though his first few defensive sequences in the fourth went awry, with him fouling Felton, setting up an and-1, and later getting leveled by a Steven Adams screen (a teammate should’ve altered him to the New Zealand wall he was about to run into), allowing Felton to score again to tie the game at 92, Mason responded by blowing past Felton for a layup.
Later, Mason matched up one-on-one with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook on the perimeter and played so sound defensively that even the most aggressive offensive player in the NBA couldn’t find an angle to get to the paint and had to pass the ball away, resulting in a turnover.
The 5-foot-11 point guard capped his return by attacking the paint off the bounce, and drawing a foul on Adams en route to two made free throws, ahead of checking out with his team up three with 3:20 to go, in what would become a 110-107 loss for the Kings.
In the 24 games to come on Sacramento’s schedule, Mason is expected to play an even larger role, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
While Fox, the No. 5 overall pick out of Kentucky, is considered more of a franchise player and will get more minutes than Mason once he returns to health (pink eye), Sacramento appears committed to playing both rookies in order to give them the experience they need.
Averaging 7.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 18.4 minutes through 30 appearances this season, look for all of those numbers to go up in the weeks ahead, as Mason tries to cement himself as one of the rebuilding franchise’s building blocks.
Over the first few months of what will undoubtedly be a long career for Josh Jackson, little was heard from the NBA rookie in Phoenix.
Playing for one of the worst teams in the league in a non-major market will do that to you, especially when your production doesn’t immediately take off.
In November, the No. 4 overall pick out of Kansas averaged 8.8 points on 40.1% shooting, only made 18.4% of his 3-pointers, and contributed 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists. It was more of the same in December: 8.7 points, 35.7% shooting, 24.1% on 3-pointers, and averages of 3.1 boards and 1.1 assists.
Jackson’s rookie season hit rock bottom the first week of January, when Suns coach Jay Triano benched him — as in didn’t play the 6-foot-8 forward a single second — in a game against one of the NBA’s other poor teams, Atlanta.
“It was kind of hard to take in,” Jackson told The Arizona Republic in January. “I kind of really didn’t understand what he was saying.”
According to Scott Bordow, The Arizona Republic, the explanation given to the 21-year-old at the time included presenting Jackson with some harsh statistics. Before he was benched, the Suns had a 97.4 offensive rating with him on the court and played nearly 10 points per 100 possessions better without him, at 106.7. What’s more, Phoenix’s defense with Jackson (111.3 rating) was worse than when he wasn’t on the floor (106.6).
Jackson didn’t take the message or the benching lightly.
“Now we kind of have a schedule where, every week, I’ll come in and we’ll watch film or just talk about things that happened in the previous games and practices just for me to get better,” Jackson told The Arizona Republic of how he responded to Triano.
As detailed by Bordow at AZCentral.com, Jackson has at times looked like a much different player since watching that game against the Hawks from the bench. In his past 19 games, Jackson is averaging 14.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists, and making 44.2% of his shot attempts, as well as 30.1% of his 3-pointers.
No, Jackson hasn’t become flawless. There was his 0-for-13 shooting night versus Houston in late January and a 4-for-18 outing at Golden State in the week leading up to the all-star break. But he also has scored 20 or more points in four of Phoenix’s six games in February and resembled a young franchise cornerstone instead of a slumping rookie. Thus far this month, he’s shooting 45% from the field — just 26.9% on 3-pointers, though — and averaging 17.4 points, with 6.1 boards and 1.4 assists.
In a loss to Denver Feb. 10, Jackson became the first NBA rookie to put up 20-plus points and four-plus rebounds, assists and blocks in the same game since Anthony Davis.
He entered the all-star break on a high note, too, putting up 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting against one of the league’s most respected defensive teams, the Utah Jazz.
As he gets more comfortable facing NBA defenders Jackson is becoming a better finisher. And the Suns need him to be. Of his 247 made field goals as a pro, 133 of them have come from within 5 feet and in, per stats.nba.com.
He has shot 54.5% from that range on the season, but his percentage around the basket is up to 61.3% since Triano took his playing time away.
Jackson displayed during his one season at Kansas the ability to defend, finish a stop or force a turnover, push and finish at the other end in a matter of seconds. At times, such versatility has translated to the NBA, as well.
A student of the game, Jackson is learning and adjusting in his rookie season. Teamed with young Suns star Devin Booker, expect to hear much more from the 2017 lottery pick in years to come.
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.”
From this day forward no member of the Boston Celtics will ever again wear No. 34.
That number will forever be associated with the name Paul Pierce and hang in the rafters above the Celtics’ signature parquet floor, with the likes of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale.
The best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain, Pierce officially became a legend Sunday in Boston, when the franchise with 17 championships retired his jersey.
“Words can’t even describe it right now,” Pierce told reporters on the eve of the ceremony.
“When I got to this day, I was like, ‘It came so fast.’ I remember like yesterday the day Wyc (Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics) called me and was like, ‘We want to retire your jersey.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? It happened already?’” recalled Pierce, currently in his first year of retirement. “Just to see and be with all the people who helped me on this journey, to get to this point to where I finally put a close on my career and leave a legacy here in Boston, it’s just good to bring all those people in one room. Because it wasn’t just me by myself to get to this point.”
Pierce figured the festivities, which followed Boston’s game against Cleveland, would toy with his emotions, and he was right. The 40-year-old who grew up in Inglewod, Calif., played three years at KU under then-coach Roy Williams and became the face of the Celtics for the bulk of his NBA career fought back tears at one point, while addressing cheering fans inside TD Garden.
“If I never make the Hall of Fame,” Pierce said during his speech, “to go up as a Celtic with my number here, that’s probably all I can ever ask for. That’ll be enough. That would be enough for me.”
A 10-time all-star and MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals, Pierce’s statistics rank him among the very best to ever wear the iconic green and white of the Celtics.
The 6-foot-7 forward nicknamed “The Truth” by an NBA legend, Shaquille O’Neal, Pierce is Boston’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (1,823), free throws made (6,434) and steals (1,583).
Only John Havlicek (26,395 points) scored more for the Celtics than Paul Pierce did (24,021) during his 15 seasons with the renowned franchise.
Pierce also ranks in the top 10 in Celtics lore in games played (third, 1,102), minutes played (third, 40,360), field goals made (third, 7,882), offensive rebounds (eighth, 1,008), defensive rebounds (third, 5,643), total rebounds (seventh, 6,651), assists (fifth, 4,305), blocks (fourth, 668), points per game (third, 21.8) and steals per game (eighth, 1.4).
It’s those kinds of numbers that earned Pierce the respect of his peers and former Celtics giants alike.
“One of the greatest things that can happen to an athlete is to retire as a Celtic,” 11-time champion Russell said in a video message to Pierce. “I’m very proud of you, and I’m proud that you were a Celtic.”
Kevin Garnett, who teamed with Pierce and Ray Allen to lead Boston to the franchise’s most recent title, in 2008, remembered Pierce for his swagger and scoring ability.
“Part of trash-talking is backing it up. And I would say his level of trash-talking is about the doing, and him telling you he’s about to do it,” Garnett said in a video tribute. “You hear these tales about Larry Bird — ‘Hey, I’m comin’ down here fixin’ to shoot the 3 right in your face.’ Well, our generation that was Paul Pierce.”
Here are a few of the countless videos and photos dedicated to Pierce’s career and achievement that popped up on his memorable day:Your browser does not support iframes.
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).
Arco Arena, the former home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, had a notoriously noisy reputation, thanks to the cowbell-wielding fanatics who occupied its seats.
Brand-new Golden 1 Center, the Kings’ new permanent residence in California’s capital, hasn’t had the chance to become so renowned yet.
But you know some holdovers from the glory days of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac are just dying to bust out those old noisemakers again.
And much like fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson famously demanded more cowbell during a Blue Oyster Cult recording session fabricated by Saturday Night Live years ago, Kings fans these days have to be clamoring to see more of a certain backup guard.
“Guess what! I’ve got a fever! And the only prescription … is more Frank Mason!”
A recent addition to Sacramento’s regular rotation, the rookie from Kansas continued to endear himself to his team’s fans — and likely teammates and coaches, as well — this week with further examples of his NBA-level merits.
The 23-year-old from Petersburg, Va, followed up an off night in Chicago (5 points, 1-for-6 shooting) this past Friday with consecutive strong showings: 13 points, 3 assists, 4-for-6 shooting at Milwaukee; and 15 points, 2 assists, 4-for-6 shooting at Cleveland.
A former KU All-American, Mason flashed incredible passing and finishing in Sacramento’s loss to Cleveland, while also draining jumpers over both Dwyane Wade and the NBA’s real king, LeBron James.
Sacramento (7-17), near the bottom of the Western Conference standings entering Friday’s game at New Orleans, isn’t winning. That’s hardly any fault of Mason, who is averaging 9.9 points and 3.9 assists in 20.5 minutes over his past 10 games — a stretch during which the 5-foot-11 reserve has shot 49.3% from the floor and nailed 60% of his 3-pointers. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and are in the early stages of their latest rebuild, still less than a year removed from trading away franchise player DeMarcus Cousins.
A second-round pick, Mason actually has proven to be a bright spot of late, helping the Kings’ bench lineups, as detailed by The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones.
“If not the same five (players), it’s been like the same three or four,” Mason told The Bee. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well together, first or second unit. We just have to keep doing that, cut out the transition points and take a lot more pride on the defensive end.”
According to the most recent data available from NBA.com, the five-man lineup in which Mason has most appeared for Sacramento puts him with Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kosta Koufos. That particular combination has a net rating of +7.9, while most of the team’s other frequently-used lineups have massive negative net ratings.
Jones recently argued in The Bee that the Kings need more Mason:
“Frank Mason III continues to show the moment is not too big for him and earns playing time in the fourth quarter of close games,” Jones wrote.
“De’Aaron Fox was drafted to be the face of the franchise, but Mason could prove to be a needed piece in this rebuilding project. His production and intangibles should not be underrated.”
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.”