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Joel Embiid is back, and so is everything we love (and hate) about him

  • Thu, 12 Oct 2017 18:43

Embiid made his preseason debut and put up 22 points in even fewer minutes.

It’s the second quarter of Joel Embiid’s first preseason game of 2017, and he doesn’t respect the Brooklyn Nets defenders attempting to guard him. I would write that sentence with confidence just by watching him roast them with contempt, but there’s no need. He told us exactly how he felt about them.

“They can’t f**king guard me,” Joel Embiid yelled.

It takes some minor lip reading and careful listening, but it’s pretty clear what Embiid said. And you know what? They f**king couldn’t. Please gorge yourself on this stat line:

  • 22 points
  • 7 rebounds
  • 3 assists
  • 4-of-9 shooting from the floor
  • 14-of-18 shooting on free throws
  • 15 minutes

Embiid hit the first shot of the game — a pull-up jumper, naturally — and overpowered Brooklyn’s defense on his way to 1.5 points per minute. He knocked down a one-footed Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway! On the very next play he hit a three-pointer FROM THE LOGO.

Embiid captured the NBA news cycle over the past 72 hours after signing a five-year, $ 147 million extension. It’s polarizing as hell, naturally, as it should be when a player who has played 31 games in three seasons gets paid nine figures. There is an incredibly complicated structure to his contract, one that basically allows the 76ers to waive him while saving some money should he suffer a career-ending injury. But it’s a risk — and it’s worth it.

Here’s the thing: if this isn’t what The Process was about, then why bother? The Process was supposed to make the 76ers a contender, and Philadelphia could tank for four more years without grabbing a player like Embiid. A player who could legitimately be the best in the league in three years. Never mind that he could be out of the league, too — it’s a risk the 76ers have to take. Unless you want to try to convince the fanbase that another few seasons of tanking is the right move.

It was worrisome to hear Embiid hadn’t been cleared for the season when training camp started, but it’s just as reassuring — and truly exhilarating — to see him out there. Embiid looks like a Jon Bois creation. He’s an enormous human, his “official” 7’, 250-pound measurements be damned. It was reported he grew another inch or two after being drafted, and I’ll be damned if there’s any evidence needed other than seeing him on the court.

Embiid is so big, so huge, that he forced the poor Nets defenders to send him to the free throw line 18 times. There’s really only one other modern players who reminds us of Embiid’s sheer, overpowering size: Shaquille O’Neal. With Embiid’s size and strength, he could be like Shaq — in many ways, he is — except that Embiid decided to be skilled, too. And it really does feel like he just “decided” to be skilled, because it has all come so easily. Embiid didn’t start playing organized basketball until 2011!

He hit 14 of the 18 free throws, even a technical free throw. He hit jumpers. He can throw passes like this with perfect touch.

Lord, he’s going to be fun to watch.

Still, it’s a very real question how much we’ll be able to watch him, both this season and beyond. Joel Embiid’s health doesn’t work on the same linear timelines as normal people health. A couple times, Embiid went tumbling to the ground, once even crashing into the ball boys and photographers. He stayed down for a few seconds, probably just mad about a missed shot or waiting for teammates to help him up, but everyone watching must have gasped.

It was hard to exhale even after he was back up on his feet. Embiid will do many things on the basketball court that you’ve never seen from someone his size this season, but it’s going to take a long time before we shake that feeling that his latest fall to the floor might be his last.

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