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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”