Thursday, October 27, 2016

Joel Embiid Arrives

Lead On, Process
Tonight in South Philly, the Sixers finally got to use the signature pick of the Sam Hinkie Era. And while the numbers (20 and 7 with 2 blocks in 22 minutes, on 6 of 18 from the floor, 1 of 3 from the arc and 7 of 8 from the line, with four turnovers) for Joel Embiid were intriguing, the visuals were so much more.

Dude is just, well, chill. Against a top-tier defender in Steven Adams and a credible offensive big in Enes Kanter, he showed no fear, especially in post possessions where rookies just crap the bed and turn it over. Down 2 late, he commanded the ball, toyed with Adams, and sank the best jumper in the laundry for the better part of a decade like he was at the Y. On a night where he wasn't even all that hot.

Honestly, I know this is utter sacrilege, but he just looks like Hakeem Olajuwon. Size, handle, confidence, poise -- he's just unreal. He drew fouls on Adams like the Thunder big and borderline All-Star was just some scrub. With the game on the line, he went 90 feet in transition and got a chasedown block, and while the play ended with Kanter chipping in garbage, that doesn't say anything about the effort, instinct and ability. He made his teammates better, he filled the arena for a franchise that hasn't won a game in October and November in years (honestly), and his team led a likely top five seed from the West, with the possible MVP, for most of the game.

And yeah, the Sixers didn't close, and yeah, we'd all be over the moon if they somehow had done that. But it's hard to be too disappointed because the Thunder needed every inch of Russell Westbrook (32/12/9 on 11 of 21 from the floor, 9 of 11 from the line, and only two turnovers in 36 minutes; in other words, about as much efficiency as Russ can manage while still being Russ), and an overall "A" level game. OKC only turned it over 10 times tonight, were +10 in boards and +6 in turnovers, and still only took the lead late. If the laundry plays this well for the rest of the calendar, I think they are a playoff team. And, um, they should get a lot better. (With health, of course.)

Here's what the Sixers' 3-headed center (Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes) did tonight: 34/13 with 6 blocks (and, um, 8 turnovers). Perhaps even more surprising, the PGs (Sergio Rodriguez, a revelation, and TJ McConnell, finally able to be the pure PG2 of his talent limit) gave them 12/6/16 with just one turnover, and I'm not cheating either of these numbers, because the centers and point guards all totalled out to 48 minutes.

So, um, why did they lose? Because the wings didn't do enough. Dario Saric was 5/7/2 in 27 minutes on 2 of 12 shooting, including a no fear 3-pointer late that lacked nothing in chutzpah, or smarts. Bob Covington and Nik Stauskas weren't horrible, but a team where the PGs gets 16 of 21 assists isn't a team that's moving the ball well enough across the board. Saric will have better nights.

All of this is quibbling, though. Joel Embiid played basketball tonight, and looked like a historic player. The rest of this, we'll figure out later.

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