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.”
Philadelphia’s favorite 7-foot-2 Cameroonian is returning to the court soon. Even though the Sixers don’t have a game on their schedule for more than five months, any time Joel Embiid has good news on his basketball well being, it qualifies as a significant development for the potential franchise center.
Although he put up Rookie-of-the-Year numbers in his debut season, the former Kansas center remained a victim of the injury bug that already had cost him two entire NBA seasons. Embiid at times dominated offensively while playing 31 games for Philadelphia, but had his rookie season cut short in late January due to a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Embiid’s most recent rehab stint, at least, has gone well, he reported Tuesday, during an appearance in New York for ESPN.
“I’m doing great,” the 23-year-old big man told Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. “… I’m supposed to be back on the court in about two or three weeks. But I’m doing good. It’s been going good.”
In town to represent his franchise at the NBA Draft Lottery, in which the 76ers could end up with two choices near the top of the board, Embiid felt typically confident about serving as a lucky charm of sorts.
But if he and the organization have their way, Philadelphia will break into the playoffs in 2018 and no longer have to count on the bounces of some Ping Pong balls when planning for their future.
“Hopefully this is the last time we’re gonna be doing this,” Embiid said. “I hate losing.”
Already an NBA social media superstar, despite his limited in-game chances to date, Embiid also explained why he stays authentic to himself when he posts on Twitter and Instagram.
“Social media is a way for me to connect with fans, and I love being on social media. I love being funny on there,” Embiid said. “… Especially in Philly they show me a lot of love, and it goes all over the world, too. So I love social media.”
On that front, Smith and Hill brought up Embiid’s longstanding aspirations to go on a date with music superstar Rihanna, and because singer Kelly Rowland also was in attendance for the event, asked him to make his case to Rihanna through her friend, Rowland.
“Why should Rihanna give you a shot?” Hill asked.
“I mean, look at myself,” a grinning Embiid responded. “… I’m 7-2. I’m good-looking. You know, women usually love my accent, because I’m from Cameroon, in Africa. And I’m pretty intelligent, too.”
Seriously, though, now nearly three years removed from becoming the No. 3 pick in the draft, Embiid, who averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Sixers in just 25.4 minutes a game, appears on schedule to return for the 2017-18 season. For him, that’s an even better development than Rihanna accepting his open invitation.
And — who knows — if the lottery shakes out the right way, Embiid might end up with another one-and-done KU prodigy as a 76ers teammates soon.
If Embiid is able to play a whole season for Philadelphia next year, along with 2016’s No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons, a run at a playoff berth and an end to the team’s spring lottery tradition just might be possible.
(Insert your own “Trust the Process” joke here.)
Since the NBA began handing out Rookie of the Year awards back in 1953, no winner has played in fewer than 50 games during the season in which he won it. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid just might turn out to be the first.
As many anticipated, following the Sixers’ announcement earlier this week the rookie big man from Kansas would indefinitely be held out of games due to soreness and swelling in his left knee, the organization amended its stance Wednesday, saying Embiid won’t play in any of Philadelphia’s remaining 23 games.
In a release regarding Embiid’s status, the team announced an MRI on Monday came with positive and negative results: the bone bruise on his left knee had improved significantly, while the meniscus tear appeared “more pronounced” than in a previous scan.
The news set off a number of Embiid-centric discussions within the NBA universe — including questions about his longterm health, which won’t have definitive answers anytime soon. Another intriguing debate is whether Embiid could or should win Rookie of the Year, despite playing in only 31 games of an 82-game season.
True, Embiid will finish the year having appeared in only 38 percent of the 76ers’ outings, but when he did take the court the results were incredible. The 22-year-old from Cameroon averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, blocked 2.5 shots a game and made 36 of 98 3-pointers (36.7%), all while playing only 25.4 minutes a night, due to the minutes restrictions the organization rightfully placed on him.
Embiid’s per-36 minute scoring numbers are among the best in the entire league — not just rookies. In per-36 points per game, only Russell Westbrook (32.3), Isaiah Thomas (30.9) and DeMarcus Cousins (29.1) rank ahead of Philadelphia’s franchise player (28.7).
As pointed out by Basketball Reference, Embiid (24.2 PER this season) is one of only seven players in league history to average at least 25 minutes a game and register a Player Efficiency Rating better than 24. The others on that list include Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. All of the names on the short index except Embiid’s currently can be found in the hall of fame.
Embiid’s case for Rookie of the Year only looks stronger when comparing his abbreviated season to those of his competition. NBA TV’s “The Starters” examined Embiid’s chances, and it’s difficult to come away as impressed with other contenders, such as his Philly teammate Dario Saric, new Sacramento King Buddy Hield, Denver’s Jamal Murray or Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.
None of those players will be able to drastically improve their numbers in the coming weeks enough to sniff Embiid’s production, but the fact that they will have played far more minutes and games could allow someone like Saric or Brogdon into the conversation in the minds of voters.
In NBA history, only Patrick Ewing (50 of 82 games in 1985-86) and Brandon Roy (57 of 82 in 2006-07) have been named the league’s top rookie after missing a significant chunk of games.
But Embiid’s wow-factor and the lack of comparable competition just might enable the charismatic big to make history.
Of course, the Sixers ultimately don’t care if Embiid attains that hardware. They just hope his growing injury history doesn’t derail what has the potential to be an extraordinary career.
"Our primary objective and focus remains to protect his long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. "As our medical team and performance staff continue their diligence in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of Joel's injury, we will provide any pertinent updates when available."
The NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in November, December and January, Joel Embiid’s February came and went without him playing in a single game for Philadelphia. What’s more, at this point, it’s unclear if he’ll be back on the court in March or April.
The former Kansas star who sat out two full NBA seasons after the Sixers drafted him third overall in 2014, due to complications with a fracture in his right foot, last played on Jan. 27. Embiid looked good, too, going for 32 points and 7 rebounds, while shooting 4-for-6 on 3-pointers against Houston.
However, the rookie sensation from Cameroon has missed 14 games since due to a left knee injury, and Philadelphia announced Monday the the center and presumed Rookie of the Year favorite is out “indefinitely.”
As Keith Pompey reported for Philly.com, Embiid first injured his knee Jan. 20, against Portland, leading him to miss the following three games with what was characterized as a bone bruise. The 7-foot-2 phenom played one game a week later before the team shut him down, after finding he had a slightly torn meniscus in the knee.
The 22-year-old face of the franchise was expected to return to the lineup following the all-star break, but that never happened due to swelling and soreness in Embiid’s knees when he practiced.
A clearer picture of the rookie’s immediate future could come soon, with the results of an MRI from Monday. So far, Embiid has played in 31 of Philly’s 59 games, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes.
The organization took a cautious approach with the injury-prone big man, restricting his minutes and keeping him out of one side of games on back-to-back nights. Still, Embiid proved to be a borderline all-star and immediate fan favorite in Philadelphia before his latest setback.
“The luck he's had with injuries, you have to feel really bad for him," 76ers point guard T.J. McConnell told Philly.com. "But his health is most important. I would rather him get healthy and be able to play and try to risk it more.”
With only 23 games remaining and Philadelphia (22-37) not in position to contend for the playoffs, Embiid missing the remainder of his rookie season seems like a legit possibility. The Sixers already have ruled their No. 1 overall pick from 2016, Ben Simmons, out for the year with a foot injury, and they just traded another former lottery pick, Nerlens Noel.
All signs points to the Sixers mailing it in for the next couple of months — or, to put it another way, “Trusting the Process.”
While missing out on Embiid highlights until next season might be tough for Philly fans to swallow, a cautionary approach that allows the franchise player to fully heal his knee would be best for him and the team.
Let’s say Embiid doesn’t play again this season. The Sixers lose like its their job and thereby increase their chances of getting a high draft choice in what is considered a strong 2017 class. Depending on how things shake out with the lottery, Philly could add a pair of top-five picks to go with Embiid and Simmons for next season — if the Los Angeles Lakers’ pick falls out of the top three, it goes to the Sixers thanks to a trade.
By now, 76ers fans know all about patience. It could finally pay off next year, particularly if the team can pair Embiid and Simmons with a couple of big-time prospects — such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, KU’s Josh Jackson, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Duke’s Jayson Tatum or Kentucky’s Malik Monk.
There is no good reason in the short-term or long-term for Philadelphia to rush Embiid back to the court. You want to see the amazing big man play for years to come, and the more talent that surrounds him the more enjoyable the future will be for the Sixers.
One of the more popular young players in the NBA, Philadelphia rookie center Joel Embiid didn’t take it too personally when the league’s coaches failed to select him as one of seven reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
While the fans gave Embiid the third-most votes among East frontcourt players — the former Kansas big man trailed only superstar LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — Chicago’s Jimmy Butler took the third frontcourt starting spot, with the support of player and media votes. The coaches chose Cleveland’s Kevin Love, Indiana’s Pual George and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap for the East’s backup bigs and forwards.
“A little disappointed,” Embiid said of his reaction to being left off the team, while speaking with reporters Friday in Philadelphia. “A lot of guys that made it deserved it, and I’m young, so I’m gonna get a lot of chances, so I’m not (too) disappointed.”
Asked if he could use the snub as motivation, though, the 22-year-old center stated his case for why he should’ve become the league’s first rookie all-star since Blake Griffin, in 2011.
“I thought I deserved it,” said Embiid, who in 30 games for the 76ers is averaging 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists, while playing 25.3 minutes. “You know, not that I care about my stats, but that’s one of the points that could’ve been proven. But I think the thing was the minutes, which I didn’t understand. If you average that many points in 24, 25 minutes, I don’t know. That should be the case. But, like I said, I’m not disappointed. I’m happy for those guys.”
As Embiid referenced, his relative lack of minutes played in comparison to his colleagues chosen as all-stars by the coaches likely made the difference in the debate. Love, George and Millsap all have played in more games this season and spent less time on the bench than Embiid in those starts. Based on clocking in and clocking out, they’ve put in more game work than the rookie this season, and that means a lot to coaches.
Embiid did have some good news, though, after sitting out of the Sixers’ previous three games, in part because of a left knee bruise.
“I’m feeling good. My knee’s feeling great,” the 7-foot-2 phenom from Cameroon reported.
So are Embiid’s teammates, because, unlike in recent seasons, the 76ers are actually competitive. The young face of the franchise said the energy around the organization has been “amazing” of late, with Philly winning eight of its last 10, and even picking up two victories in his absence.
“My job here is kind of like to change the culture,” Embiid said. “The Sixers, the past three years, people have said that they’re trying to tank or whatever, but that wasn’t the case. Now we’re proving that we’re trying to win, trying to make the playoffs and I think we’ve got a pretty good chance. So my job here is kind of like to bring the excitement back to the city and just change the culture.”
Philadelphia (17-27) enters Friday’s nationally televised game against Houston 4.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.