When Philly’s “process” landed the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft — they selected LSU’s Ben Simmons — we could forgive you for thinking things were finally starting to look up for the worst team in the National Basketball Association. Many considered the 6-foot-10 forward from Australia to be the most transcendent player to enter the league since the Cleveland Cavaliers struck gold with a kid out of Akron, Ohio. It was official: The Sixers’ tanking would pay off shortly. Or would it?
From the moment word spread about Simmons’ injury, everyone in Philadelphia was hit with a collective “face palm” emoji. Once again, a top draft pick — the one most likely to take home NBA Rookie of the Year honors — was down for the count. He is expected to miss three months after undergoing surgery on his broken right foot. Under normal circumstances, this news could derail the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase. But, against all odds, this preseason gave Philly fans a massive reason to feel optimistic. And his name is Joel Embiid.
Although the Sixers selected the former Kansas standout with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, injuries and setbacks kept the 7-footer off the floor for the past two years. With the way he shook off the rust and showcased his ridiculous two-way potential this preseason, it’s a gross understatement to say his arrival is worth the wait. In fact, even before Embiid went out on Sunday and dropped 15 points against the Detroit Pistons in a 97-76 loss, Sixers coach Brett Brown emphasized that the 22-year-old is exceeding even his expectations:
I will tell you that he is better than I thought he was.
It’s important for everybody to hear me say this early — he’s doing some things five games into preseason NBA basketball that I thought would take longer. Those types of things are better than I expected for the reason that it’s just happened a little bit sooner.
It may only be the preseason, but Embiid shows vast improvement each and every time he steps on the court. Considering the fact that the center is under a minutes restriction, that’s saying something.
Embiid is showing glimpses of a player who can be dominant on both ends of the floor. His strength and size are overwhelming; his knowledge of the game and spacial awareness are off-the-charts; his instincts, power, touch, and pristine footwork is Olajuwon-esque. Furthermore, JoJo hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. Talk about scary.
We’ve seen Embiid body veterans for a put-back slam. We’ve seen him knock down outside shots, and we’ve seen him slowly adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA. It’s hard to believe, but it took him just six preseason games to show he’s the complete package. Just wait until the regular season gets underway — we have a feeling his presence will be worth the price of admission.
Just so we’re clear: The Philadelphia 76ers are not a playoff team. For anyone who follows the NBA on a regular basis, this piece of information shouldn’t come as a surprise. Yet, despite the club sporting a 1-5 record (losers of five straight contests) six games into the current preseason, there is reason to feel optimistic in the City of Brotherly Love. It starts with a rookie — just not the one many expected.
We won’t see the “real” Sixers until Ben Simmons returns to action. But until that time comes, take solace in knowing that Embiid has the potential to be the next great NBA big man; a two-way force who dictates the game just by stepping on the floor. The 76ers aren’t going to shock anyone this season; the team is hardly ready to compete on the big stage. Yet, from an individual standpoint, we expect Embiid to receive the NBA Rookie of the Year award for his excellence. And that’s only the beginning. So, get excited. “The Process” is about to unfold.