Type the name Joel Embiid into YouTube and you only get a handful of highlight videos to cast your eyes over. You get mere glimpses of a player who first touched a basketball at the age of 15 in his native Cameroon, combining a mixture of athleticism and size only seen a handful of times in a generation.
Nobody knew who this stick-thin former volleyball player was but for a select few – fortunately, one of those few happened to be former Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute, now of the Los Angeles Clippers. After setting up a basketball camp in the Central African country, he spotted the 15-year-old phenom on-court and immediately became his mentor, setting Embiid on a path to NBA stardom, or so it seemed.
Following the personal success and media acclaim, the now 22-year-old was picked third in the 2014 NBA Draft, becoming yet another young talent to join a Philadelphia 76ers roster entrenched in a historic decline. But now, two years since shaking hands with the NBA Commissioner, Embiid is yet to suit up for a game, line up for a jump ball or even score a solitary point.
This week it was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer that the 76ers have sent Embiid back to Qatar to receive more treatment in order to be ready for the 2016/17 NBA season.
Per the Philadelphia Inquirer, Embiid left Philadelphia this week and will spend the next several weeks at Aspetar, an orthopedic and sports medicine hospital in Doha, Qatar. He had a lot of success there, and the team wanted to send him back for more treatment, according to a source.
It raises the question, is Joel Embiid the best NBA player never to see a minute?
Rotten Luck for a Beleaguered Franchise
It’s safe to say that the Philadelphia 76ers are the worst team in NBA basketball right now. Over the course of three seasons, the Pennsylvania franchise has amassed 46 wins – 16 wins less than the Golden State Warriors have claimed this season alone.
Meanwhile, the team has built an astounding collection of over 180 losses, all of which can be attributed to the ‘rebuilding project’ going on since the likes of Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner all headed for pastures new.
Joel Embiid was expected to be the light at the end of the tunnel for the ever faithful 76ers fans. However, that tunnel’s still proving tough to get through, and longer than many NBA fans and analysts expected.
Charles Barkley, who was himself drafted by the 76ers just two spots below Embiid, has even shown support for the team and player, giving quotes regarding the team on The Bill Simmons Podcast.
“If they [Philadelphia] had Joel Embiid, they would have an outside chance of making the Playoffs," he claimed.
“I’m a big Embiid fan, they might not have even taken Okafor if they had Embiid, they might have taken another guard.”
Quite the backing from a man who knows a thing or two about the 76ers.
This goes to show that even some of the NBA’s former stars believe that having Embiid healthy could prove a real turning point for a franchise that’s in desperate need of redirection. But could the Cameroonian really be the answer on the court?
A New Era for Philadelphia?
Few players are coveted the same way Joel Embiid is. He’s grown two inches since being drafted according to reports, and rumours have even surfaced about him being the best three-point shooter on the roster.
That’s right, a player who’s sat out for two seasons is rumoured to be the best shooter on the team, and he’s the taller side of seven foot.
It's clear that this isn’t just a player who’s going to come in, play 15 minutes and grab you eight points and five rebounds. This is the kind of player who could turn the heads of basketball greats; offering up an intimidating post presence, an uncanny shooting ability, without struggling mightily at the charity stripe.
Despite playing just 28 games for the Kansas Jayhawks, Embiid averaged 11.2ppg and 8.1rpg, and that was a man that was still developing. Look at a picture of him now and you’ll see a monstrous 250-pound athlete built of sheer muscle, capable of throwing down between the leg dunks for fun.
No longer the skinny kid who made the flight to the US from Central Africa, is he?
The key for Philadelphia is to ensure that Embiid isn’t rushed back into action, only to see that fragile right foot succumb to yet another injury which could put him out for good, and they know that.
“We think he’s heading in a really, really positive direction, both physically and mentally. We’re going at a pace that we’re all happy with. We understand how crucial it is that we don’t miss a beat and he does, too,” 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown said, per CSNPhilly back at the turn of the year.
However, it isn’t only his physical well-being which the 76ers have to look at.
The Joel Embiid Mindset
Sure, we’ve seen nothing of Embiid on the basketball court, except for the occasional warm-up. But one area where he has provided entertainment is off the basketball court, and it’s clear to see that he’s taken to Twitter tirades faster than he has to the NBA spotlight.
In fact, the Joel Embiid Twitter feed has quickly become something of internet folklore, filling out with almost 400,000 followers. Unfortunately, this isn’t because of an informative or philosophical social media presence, it’s because he’s happy to troll celebrities and other players alike.
This attitude is quick to build fans outside of the league, but when you’re blocking Lebron on Twitter instead of on the court, it's not going to endear you to other players in the league.
Compounding this, talk of any NBA player unwilling to wear a protective boot after surgery, eating unhealthily and even making unsavoury comments staff members (all of which have been reported about Embiid) doesn’t instill confidence in his temperament.
However, following these reports, it’s been all quiet on the Joel Embiid front, with little bad press coming out of the big man’s camp in recent months.
The Future for Joel Embiid
Whilst there is a clear question mark over his demeanour, it’s worth stating that given the scrutiny that he’s under, and the money he’s making, it’s likely that many 22-year-olds would make similar mistakes.
But looking past this, the Philadelphia 76ers have a player on their hands who could prove to be more impactful than almost any other player in the league.
With out of this world athleticism, a shooting touch of a guard, all in a seven-foot frame, it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing those YouTube highlight films stacking up faster than you might think – this time wearing an NBA jersey.