Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid has been a revelation in preseason.
The third pick in the 2014 draft, Embiid missed the first two years of his career with foot injuries. Prior to this preseason, he hadn’t played a competitive basketball game since his freshman year at University of Kansas.
Through five preseason games, Embiid has looked solid, albeit in limited minutes. He’s shown the ability to score from the low post, stretch the floor, and protect the rim.
Thursday night, in his fifth game in the NBA, Embiid showed off a skill that surprised many — the ability to switch on a guard from the perimeter and defend him. Except, this guard was John Wall, one of the quickest, most explosive guards in the NBA. Embiid hung with him, forcing him into a tough shot.
This is a crucial skill for any big man in the NBA. In a pick-and-roll-heavy league, switching is a common practice on defence, and big men who can’t move their feet and stay with a guard get roasted. It’s why Tristan Thompson has emerged as a critical piece of the Cavaliers, and why Kevin Love’s Game-7 stop on Stephen Curry mattered so much. It’s also why prodding, offensive-minded centres have become increasingly glued to the bench in big games.
Nobody expected Embiid, at over 7-feet tall, fresh off two major foot injuries, to be able to hang with Wall on a switch.
In the same game, Embiid also gave a glimpse of his explosiveness with a big putback dunk.
It’s been a long wait to see Embiid take the floor. He was the impetus behind Sam Hinkie’s “Trust the Process” mantra. It’s early, but the signs Embiid has been showing suggest the wait was worth it.
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