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NBA Daily: Joel Embiid Finally Feels Like an ‘NBA player’

Like the cover of Lethal Weapon, Joel Embiid is finally equipped to go back to back, marking the next step in his NBA career.

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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.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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