The Joel Embiid Show staged another revival Friday night in Philadelphia. It was complete with the requisite “Trust the Process” chants from Sam Hinkie acolytes, a willing patsy in the seemingly disinterested Charlotte Hornets and a standing ovation for the Sixers center just about whenever he did anything right.
Given the state of the franchise over the past three seasons, it’s great that there is a reason for fans to come out at all, and 18,215 did on Friday to watch the Sixers win their third straight and fifth in six games. With the sporting landscape in town as barren as it has been since the early 1970s, anything that generates excitement and hope is a good thing.
And Embiid is a good thing.
He’s just not a great thing. Yet. Watching him play is fun. Embiid brings an enthusiasm to professional basketball that many players lack. He smiles. He has the bounce of a young stallion. He enjoys his teammates and definitely loves performing for the adoring Sixers crowd. It’s clear that he has scads of potential. Let’s just hope he realizes it.
Neither Embiid nor the Sixers knows yet what he will be, or for that matter, how to use him. He seems to be trying to play all five positions on the court, often concurrently. He’s behind the three-point line, in the post, running the offense and hanging out on the wing. The NBA is embracing versatile big men like never before – witness New Orleans’ Anthony Davis – but the Sixers need to find a way to focus Embiid’s efforts.
Part of the issue is that no matter how much people try to convince fans that the Sixers are a legitimate NBA rising star, there are precious few members of the regular rotation who would be significant contributors on a winning team. That’s what people must realize. It’s one thing to score 20 points in a 102-94 loss. It’s another to score 15 for a team that wins that game – and many others. The difference is vast, and the NBA is filled with skilled players who aren’t good enough to help a team win even a playoff series, much less a championship.
Embiid is definitely someone who could be the linchpin of a winning franchise. He has excellent defensive instincts, athletic ability that allows him to rebound all around the hoop, and a collection of offensive moves that could make him a dangerously consistent scorer. And since his three-year NBA career is only 27 games old, it makes sense that he is eager to play, sometimes operating at 78 rpm, rather than a more controlled tempo. He’s young, and squelching his enthusiasm would be a mistake. Let’s hope he is as vibrant eight years from now.
But the Sixers have to put a team around Embiid that enables him to develop an identity and play a position, rather than roam the court as a basketball handyman. That’s not going to be easy. If Ben Simmons plays this year, the lineup will take a more concrete form, and the arrival of what could be two lottery picks will help next year. It will be a few more years before the Sixers can be considered a real contender. Until then, be careful not to mistake pockets of prosperity by a roster that includes few players who will be around in 2018-19 with real progress. The Sixers have taken some small steps, but the destination remains miles off. The good news is that Embiid appears to be someone capable of being a star.
Especially if he slows down.â€‹
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Look out for Neumann University’s men’s basketball team, which is 14-1 overall and a perfect 8-0 in the Colonial States Athletic Conference. Last Saturday, Friends Central product Billy Cassidy hit eight three-pointers and scored 28 to lead the Knights to a 95-56 rout of Centenary. Neumann ended last week ranked 17th in the nation, according to D3hoops.com, and is a good bet to reach the national tournament.