Joel Embiid: The man worth the two-year wait
Over the last few weeks and months, we have covered the Philadelphia 76ers quite regularly in this space. After all, they are in a self-made seriously unique position, a paragon of tanking and business strategy amidst on-court awfulness neatly incorporated into a snappy two word phrase, "The Process".
That term, however, now has another meaning. Knowing full well that he and his career are pretty much the barometer for the success of it all, and never one for missing out on a self-promotion opportunity, 76ers centre Joel Embiid has now taken to calling himself "The Process", ensuring that the term endures beyond the departure of Sam Hinkie.
After missing the first two years of his career due to injury, Embiid has finally taken the court for the Sixers. In their first three preseason games, Embiid has played 38 minutes, scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.
The minutes are low for a reason, yet the production is good for a reason, and he is not merely beating up on training camp bodies to do this. It is not a bad statistical start, all told. It gets infinitely lot better, though, when you look at how he has done it.
The player doing all of those things is 7'2, has missed the best part of two and a half years of games and practice time, and yet straight away starts out his career doing all that stuff. Hello, Joel. Glad you could make it.
This is the same Embiid which we saw at Kansas. Embiid was at Kansas for only one year and 28 games, but he could be seen to improve in every one of them. There is an innateness to his physical abilities - seriously, look how fast both laterally and in a straight line that 7'2 behemoth is - which cannot be taught. But that which can be taught seems to be learned very quickly.
With his size, speed, agility, timing, finesse, touch and footwork, Embiid seems to be an absolute natural for the game. The rawness is evident - his fouls are rather rookie-like, he never seems to want to pass the ball, and his jump shot is not yet as good as he clearly wants it to be. Yet in just a few Vines above, Embiid is demonstrating the skills, tools and instincts of a great one. Pretend those were not a few plays from 38 minutes of preseason time, but an accurate embodiment of a player's game over a full season - has anyone ever done all of those things, and at that size?
None of this is to say that Embiid will become a transcendent player. There is never such a thing as a sure thing, apart from maybe LeBron. There is especially never such a thing as a sure thing when talking about a player with such an injury history - as evidenced by the careers of Yao Ming and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, someone who is that big running and jumping that much is someone automatically predisposed to foot injuries, the same kind of foot injuries that Embiid has already missed two years for. And neither Yao nor Z never ran that fast or that well.
It is however to say that, in the above, Embiid shows that he could be a transcendent one. That is a player with range, footwork, agility and touch, with the abilities to read, cut, rotate and adapt on the fly, and whose skills seem to develop remarkably quickly. All of which he combines with the physical abilities to actually be able to do whatever it is that needs doing.
Embiid might perhaps play more like Jermaine O'Neal than Shaquille O'Neal offensively, the early indications being a predilection for finesse over power, but as long as he scores efficiently on offense and joins the elites defensively, so what?
Naysay away at your leisure, naysayers. It's just preseason. It's just three games. These aren't competitive games. He has yet to prove he can stay healthy. He will need to adjust to other team's scouting adjustments. It's only 12 minutes per game. He made that move over Tyler Zeller. Etc etc etc. All true. And all not the point here. We could temper our excitement. But where's the fun in that?
The Process is dead. Long live The Process.