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At long last, from the sound of things, fans of the Philadelphia 76ers might this season — possibly, potentially, with a little bit of luck, maybe — actually get a look at that rarest and most imagination-captivating of theoretical beings: a fully healthy Joel Embiid.
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The 7-foot-2 Cameroonian prospect, whom the Sixers selected out of Kansas with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft despite pre-draft fractures in his lower back and foot, was front and center during the Sixers’ Beach Bash in Avalon, N.J., this weekend. In addition to endearing himself to young fans by showing off his rim-protecting skills and self-deprecating sense of humor …
… Embiid also proclaimed himself fully healthy ahead of Sixers training camp next month, and eager to get finally take the court for his first honest-to-goodness taste of competitive NBA play after two frustrating, injury-filled and setback-riddled years:
“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” […]
Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers.
“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”
That sound you just heard in your head after reading the last sentence of Embiid’s answer was every Sixers fan and employee knocking on the closest piece of wood they could find. Can’t be too careful when you’re talking about somebody coming back from two surgeries to repair a stress-fractured navicular bone, you know?
Embiid’s most recent optimistic self-assessment dovetails with the latest comments made by 76ers head coach Brett Brown, who told ESPN’s Zach Lowe that Embiid’s “on track to play in the preseason,” meaning we could see him as soon as Oct. 4 against the Boston Celtics on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.
“I will tell you that, behind closed doors — physically, mentally, recent scans, medically — everything is pointing in the right direction,” Brown said. “We’re just very excited.”
But after waiting this long for their investment in Embiid to bear fruit, the Sixers still intend to take their time acclimating him to the game.
“I think the thing I remind myself, and mostly him, is there really has to be a high degree of patience that he has first with himself,” Brown said. “You know, he really didn’t play basketball his junior year [of high school]. He played, I think, 10 minutes his senior year in high school. He played 70 percent of his first college year. He was injured his first two NBA seasons. I mean, just do the math. The timeline, the minutes on a basketball court … it’s incredible. So, you know, you see all that, and we just have to be mindful of him. But he’s doing good. We’re all excited to see him actually play in an NBA game.”
While we might not see Embiid for extended minutes or stretches any time soon, what he’s already shown in workouts and non-contact drills has made a believer out of former Sixers guard, current team ambassador and all-time Good Name Haver World B. Free, according to Marc Narducci of Philly.com:
“Joel Embiid is an amazing player,” said Free, who averaged 30.2 points per game and earned an all-star berth in the 1979-80 season for the San Diego Clippers. “He is a man amongst boys.”
Free is most impressed with the fluidity of the 7-foot-2 Embiid.
“He is an athlete but he is also a basketball player,” Free said. “I have seen him make moves that are unbelievable.”
For many skeptical that a post-surgery Embiid can live up to the hype that he generated with his smooth post play and athleticism during his time at Kansas, seeing will be believing. Just how much he can show at the NBA level could depend on the context in which he takes the floor. Finding the best possible situation for him to succeed might take some time, as the Sixers head into the season with a crowded frontcourt full of highly touted, talented and enticing pieces — 2013 No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel, 2014 No. 3 pick Embiid, 2015 No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor, 2015 No. 12 pick Dario Saric (coming to the U.S. after two years playing abroad and fresh off some impressive play for Croatia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio) and, of course, Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
The glut of young options, and the reality that there are only 96 minutes available at the four and five spots each night, has led to a slew of trade rumors in recent months, with Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo acknowledging this summer that one of his big men “probably has to go at some point.” It’s exceedingly unlikely at this stage that Simmons, the newly installed franchise point forward, or Embiid, who hasn’t played competitive basketball since February of 2014, would be among the players on the move … so it’s a good thing that they’re high-school buddies who really seem to be enjoying the time they’re spending together. From Kyle Phillippi of Metro:
If the success the fans expect is indeed going to happen, it’s going to start with the health of Embiid, the transition of Simmons and how those two work off of each other.
Both are feeling good about what’s ahead.
“He’s a great player, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said. “Off the court we’re like brothers. We have fun.”
The Sixers and their fans will hope that Embiid, Simmons and the rest of Sam’s Club can keep the fun rolling once JoJo starts taking part in live action. For now, though, the possibility that he’ll actually do that next month — like, for real this time — is plenty exciting enough.
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