Over the course of just 70 career games spanning four years, Joel Embiid has made a remarkable impact on the NBA.
From double-doubles, to 40-point games, to Sportscenter blocks, Russell Westbrook poster dunks, and a starting spot in an All-Star game, Embiid forced himself into the conversation as one of the league’s best players after nearly being written off because of two foot surgeries that caused him to miss the first two years of his professional career.
But there’s still one thing missing from Embiid’s whirlwind of a career: playing in back-to-back games.
After living the first part of his basketball life as a medical question mark, Embiid is finally free of minutes restrictions and sitting out of two straight games. After playing Friday night at home against the Miami HEAT, Embiid will be available to play Saturday’s contest versus the Indiana Pacers.
This comes at a time when Embiid’s performance and availability are more than a national conversation. It’s duly noted that the 7-foot-2 center regularly misses practices and games due to what the Philadelphia 76ers categorize as “load management.” Not only is Embiid starting the upcoming All-Star game, but he’s also participating in the Rising Stars Challenge and Skills Challenge over the course of the weekend’s festivities. For a player whose health is handled so carefully by his club, Embiid participating in a full slate of fun activities at least deserves to be questioned.
But head coach Brett Brown doesn’t foresee an issue with his franchise player going out and absorbing the entire experience of All-Star weekend.
“I’ve had the privilege to coach in two of those games, two All-Star games,” Brown said prior the Sixers game against the HEAT. “It’s just fun. When you look at it you’re never really worrying about everyone’s going to get tired because of the games. You worry a little bit about the magnitude of the event, and just the atmosphere more than the actual event that you’re talking about. That’s more on my mind than him getting fatigued in those types of events.”
Fatigue and injuries have been a mainstay in the Embiid narrative, but over the course of this season alone, it’s been more talk than reality. Checking into 39 games thus far, Embiid has eclipsed 32 minutes 18 times. That includes a 39-minute outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves and his 49-minute triple-overtime performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Simply, the Sixers aren’t resting Embiid anymore if they feel they have a chance to bring home a victory.
On the nights Embiid isn’t available, however, the 25-24 Sixers are a shell of themselves. Of the 10 games Embiid has missed, Philadelphia is 2-8, losing some of those games to the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings, not exactly playoff-caliber squads.
At a time where the playoff race is heating up in the Eastern Conference, with seeds 4-8 being separated by just three games, having Embiid on the court as much as possible certainly bolsters the Sixers’ chances to do more damage to their opponents records than their own.
That being said, the step to include Embiid in back-to-backs is in no way indicative of risking his long-term health for a short-term return.
“Joel’s availability has got nothing to do with desperation or crunch time, it’s all about his health,” Brown said. “Which is exactly what it should be.”
Despite being a result of Embiid’s growing health, the timing for the All-Star center to become fully uncorked couldn’t be more coincidental to his team’s success.
When Embiid fails to make it on the court for the Sixers, their offensive rating plummets from the 112.6 mark they produce while he’s playing by 10 full points. That rating would be the absolute lowest in the NBA. Their defensive rating when he’s playing, 103.2, would be second to only the Boston Celtics. While Embiid rests, the Sixers’ defensive rating balloons to 110.3, which would rank 25th, smack dab in the middle of the Timberwolves and the Atlanta Hawks.
Having the opportunity to play as the games come along and not sitting out scheduled contests should Embiid to develop more of a rhythm, according to the All-Star himself. As the games and practices build up on the second half of the season, Embiid believes he’ll have a better chance to build up continuity down the stretch.
“We’ve known for the past couple weeks that I’ve been healthy, so this is just another step toward our goal,” Embiid said.
The success the Sixers and Embiid have together this season is undeniable. Together, they show signs of being one of the more dominant teams in the league. Apart, the team struggles to recreate the production they receive from their star player, and the player himself doesn’t truly experience the grind of a full NBA season.
Moving forward, the rest of the league will be waiting to see if Embiid can hold up under the demands of a true professional schedule. The Sixers themselves will see if Embiid can continue to post his averages of 24 points and 11 rebounds as the minutes and games build up.
Their playoff hopes depend on it.
This next step in Embiid’s career is just as crucial as the 40-point games or the poster-worthy dunks. For Embiid, playing back-to-back games is the final hurdle to realizing how special he can actually be.
Playing those games is also the last step to truly being in the same category as his star peers.
“Now I’m gonna feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.
2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap
Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.
The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.
Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.
NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.
Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.
The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.
DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.
LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.