The NBA world may not get to see Joel Embiid play until the 2015-16 season. For those who are currently on the Philadelphia 76ers while he rehabs, they get a sneak peak into the 2014 third overall pick before he hits the floor.
Embiid underwent foot surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot in June prior to the NBA Draft. Unable to let his game do the talking, he has been sharing his personality on social media for months. His teammates have more insight, though. This week they discussed with Basketball Insiders what they have already gotten to know of him during training camp.
Growing Up in the NBA
One of the most important factors to realize about Embiid is his age. His stature can be deceiving — the seven-foot, 250-pound center is only 20 years old. With that youth comes a lot of learning to do, not just in a game but in life as a professional basketball player.
“It’s noticeable that he’s young, trying to figure stuff out still,” Brandon Davies said of Embiid. “It’s hard not to be playing right now. He’s trying to learn and soak as much up as he can right now, but that’s hard to do when you can’t be in the action. You can kind of tell it frustrates him and he just wants to be out there with us.”
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has known Embiid since they were growing up in Cameroon. He understands firsthand the work Embiid will have to put in to succeed in the NBA. Even though their relationship dates back years through their fathers’ friendship, Mbah a Moute, 28, isn’t giving the rookie a free pass.
“He has to learn how to be a pro — how to come in, do his job, take his job seriously, and become a better professional, more than basketball,” he said. “Basketball is a whole other world.”
Embiid’s life has been fast tracked since he moved to the United States as a teenager. In a short span, he has gone from high school to college to the pros. Embiid has been thrown into new situations on a regular basis; the NBA will be his longest stop in a while.
“He’s still a young guy trying to figure out all that stuff that kind of happened in three years,” Mbah a Moute said. “He has a good personality but needs to continue to grow and mature. He’s a very good young man.”
A Sense of Humor to Match His Size
The phrase “he’s a character” was mentioned repeatedly throughout the 76ers’ locker room when discussing the rookie. Embiid has made a quick impression with his sense of humor, which has kept his teammates entertained early in the preseason.
“He’s a funny kid,” Henry Sims said. “He’s enjoyable to be around. He has a fun-loving attitude, a carefree attitude.”
Many say Embiid can be quiet at times, especially when first meeting someone, but once he loosens up he can command the floor.
“Anything that comes out of his mouth, you’re going to bust out laughing,” Arnett Moultrie said. “He jokes a lot. He’s all-around funny.”
Casper Ware noted the timing of Embiid’s one liners and said he’s always laughing. Ronald Roberts described him as a mixture of quiet and silly.
Then, there’s the dancing. You can’t ignore the dancing.
“He likes doing the ‘Shmoney’ dance,” said Roberts. “He’s so big, it’s kind of funny. (He does it) when the song comes on, in practice, whenever. He does it pretty well.”
Involved in Spite of Injury
Embiid had been considered the potential No. 1 overall pick prior to his foot injury. He and the 76ers will have to wait to see his NBA talent, but in the meantime he is staying as involved as possible with the team during his rehab. He reports to the facility for his routine when the other players arrive for practice, keeping him on the same schedule as his teammates.
“In camp he was involved even though he couldn’t play or anything,” Mbah a Moute said. “(He is) staying with the team and staying with the regimen. I think that’s good.”
He works with coaches on his conditioning while the team runs through drills. His desire to be present has been noticeable to the rest of the squad.
“(He brings a) work ethic,” Roberts said. “Even though he’s sidelined because of his foot, you’ll see him either dribbling or always shooting or something. He’s not just sitting there not doing anything … He’ll be ready when he’s injury-free.”
In the meantime, Embiid is contributing what he can from the bench. During the 76ers’ preseason kickoff against the Boston Celtics on Monday, he was very vocal on the bench despite the fact he has not yet played in NBA game.
“(He told us), ‘Keep going, keep pushing’ — the same thing a regular teammate would say — ‘Just go hard,” K.J. McDaniels said. “It’s good coming from him because I know he’s supporting us and has our backs. … As a team, we all try to bond as a brotherhood. He tries to lift everyone up even though he isn’t playing right now. … He’s almost being a leader as a young dude.”
Just a few weeks into training camp, Embiid has made his mark on the 76ers. Once he’s cleared to play, he will look to do the same on the court.
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