Joel Embiid dunks through the legs, still isn't playing for Sixers

It is not bold to claim that the Philadelphia 76ers need better players. The NBA's most tank-happy franchise entered Friday's home game against the Utah Jazz with a 13-48 record, just one win ahead (or behind?) of the 12-48 New York Knicks for the worst record in the league. Among the players now on the roster, it's arguable that big man Nerlens Noel is the only one who factors into the Sixers' long-term plans. General manager Sam Hinkie has collected numerous assets and drafted several highly regarded prospects now unable to suit up in red, white, and blue, but the product on the court still looks very lacking.

[DraftKings: FREE $20k Fantasy Basketball Contest with First Deposit. Draft your team now.]

Center Joel Embiid, the third pick in the 2014 draft out of Kansas, is one of those unseen players who would figure to improve the Sixers. Hinkie drafted him shortly after he received surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, an injury that looked set to sideline the prospective top-pick for four to six months. That timeline would have put Embiid's NBA debut on track for late December. However, it's now two months later with no indication that he'll play for head coach Brett Brown this season.

Scroll to continue with content

[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]

While Embiid isn't playing in real games, he has been participating in Philadelphia's practices. When he has, he's been pretty impressive. Enough so, in fact, that the Sixers tweeted out this video of Embiid going through his legs for a dunk in Friday's warmups:

It's a very impressive feat for a 7-footer, let alone one who is apparently unable to play in NBA games at this time. On the other hand, the mere fact that a 7-footer can dunk like this in any context might cause fans to wonder why he's not on any sort of timetable to show up in a box score. What's the point of teasing everyone with Embiid's talent if the team doesn't seem especially committed to revealing him any time soon?


To be sure, there is a big difference between a warmup and a highly competitive NBA regular-season game. Yet Embiid has practiced with his teammates for some team and apparently impressed, to the point where it would seem that a basketball team with an interest in building a winner (though not necessarily in winning games now) would want to see if and how their prized rookie could contribute. That is particularly the case given that Embiid and the blossoming Noel appear to play the same position — if they're going to work together, they probably have to figure out how to do so sooner rather than later.

However, as Mike Prada of SB Nation wrote at the trade deadline, there is no real evidence that Hinkie and his front office have interest in building a foundation when they can continue to add pieces in preparation for a bright future that exists primarily in their own minds. The Sixers appear increasingly to be an idea of an organization headed on the right track rather than a team that is actually making that progress in any tangible sense. As anyone who has watched a struggling third-year lottery pick knows, it's possible to have loads of potential without realizing any of it.

This Embiid video may be the clearest manifestation of the franchise's approach. He appears super talented and capable — simply watching him lets the imagination project a very bright future for both Embiid and the Sixers. At the same time, though, it's confusing why the Sixers won't focus on getting Embiid on the court, or at least explain why he's not able to do so right now. The guy in this video looks like someone who could help the team against the Jazz and many other teams. If he's physically unable to do so, we should be given an explanation why. Projection and titillation are no substitutes for observable gains.

- - - - - - -

Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!