Sixers' patience pays off: 7 memorable moments from Joel Embiid's debut
The former No. 3 pick showed why he's such a special prospect
All the people who had patience for ex-general manager Sam Hinkie's long-term rebuilding plan, trusted The Process and followed every step of their franchise savior's recovery from two foot surgeries finally got a look at the Sixers' future. Embiid played in a real NBA game, broadcast on national television, and he lived up to the hype (and didn't get hurt).
Embiid's journey to this point, chronicled by Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins in a profile published Wednesday morning, is nothing short of incredible. He only started playing basketball six years ago. He wanted to be redshirted when he arrived at Kansas in 2013, and teammates were dunking on him in pickup. A few months after that, he was drawing comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. Now, he barely resembles the skinny Jayhawk who was supposed to be drafted No. 1 until he broke his navicular bone. He's stronger, even more skilled and comfortable shooting from behind the 3-point line.
Against the Thunder, Embiid had 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes, shooting 6-for-16 and going 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. Those numbers are ridiculous for a debut, but they don't quite capture the way he impacted the game and the people in attendance. Here are seven moments that stood out:
1. The bucket and the block
Just a few minutes into his career, Embiid caught the ball at the 3-point line with the smaller Andre Roberson on him. He pump faked, took a couple of dribbles right, then used some fancy footwork to create separation for a jumper at the free-throw line. Olajuwon would have been proud.
Then, with the Wells Fargo Center crowd was standing and cheering, Embiid raced down to the other end of the court. Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook ran a pick-and-roll with Adams and attacked the rim at high velocity. Embiid saw it coming and swatted it out of the air.
2. He has the range
Early in the second quarter, Embiid set a screen for guard T.J. McConnell then popped out to the 3-point line. This created an opportunity for a wide-open 3-pointer, and the 7-foot-2 center launched it with confidence. He held his follow through as the ball swished through the net. It's not supposed to look so smooth for players his size.
In the third quarter, Embiid went to the free-throw line and the crowd chanted, "M-V-P!" It was absurd and amazing, as if the fans wanted to make this as special of a night as possible for him.
In all seriousness, while MVP isn't within reach just yet, Embiid could come home with some hardware at the end of the season. Despite his minutes restriction, he should probably be the favorite for rookie of the year right now.
4. "He can't guard me!"
Forward Jerami Grant fed Embiid the ball against Adams about 15 feet from the basket. When Embiid faced up Adams, he called for a re-post, passed it out to guard Nik Stauskas and got better position. Stauskas passed it back, Embiid patiently made his way to the basket using a shoulder fake and a drop step, drawing a foul and almost finishing it. After the foul was called, a camera caught him saying, "He can't guard me!"
At the line after the foul on Adams, another chant broke out. This time, the crowd was chanting, "Trust The Process." Two fans wearing T-shirts featuring Hinkie in the style of President Barack Obama in the famous "Hope" poster received a few seconds of airtime. Those shirts were designed by 76ers podcast The Rights to Ricky Sanchez for their draft lottery party five months ago.
ESPN commentators Mike Green and Jeff Van Gundy loved it, but not nearly as much as all the Hinkie supporters watching at home. Here's hoping Hinkie was watching, too.
6. The clutch jumper
With less than a minute left and Philadelphia down by two, coach Brett Brown called Embiid's number. He faced up Adams again in the mid-post, hit him with two jab steps and made a jumper as if there was nobody in front of him.
"The mystery is solved," Brown said, via The Press of Atlantic City's Michael McGarry. "What do you do? You get him the ball as much as you can."
7. The end
Down by four with 10 seconds left, Embiid was guarded by Westbrook, who got up in his face so he couldn't take a 3-pointer. Embiid took a couple of long strides to the basket and made a layup. When Victor Oladipo fell to the floor, it looked like Embiid might have had a chance to make it a one-point game with a free throw, but the official called a charge. Frustrated, the rookie punched the stanchion twice. Hard.
Judging by that reaction, Embiid wanted nothing more than to get the Sixers a win in his first game. The Process, however, was never about wins and losses.
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