After two years of nothing but Joel Embiid tweets and Shirley Temple rumors, the former No. 3 overall pick actually played in a basketball game Tuesday night.
Embiid simply playing was a massive first step, but the ability he flashed in 13 minutes brought even more excitement, and was a much-deserved reward for fans who never questioned the process. (Quietly, Dario Saric also had a nice little debut, scoring 10 points—including two threes—in 18 minutes.)
Not only did Embiid leave the game unscathed, he was positively awesome to watch. Embiid showed all the skills that made him such a highly touted prospect. A buttery turnaround J from the post. The ability to step outside and connect from long distance. Intimidating defense in the paint. Embiid was the complete package. Sam Hinkie definitely streamed Embiid’s first start in a local Palo Alto coffee shop, and I imagine him screaming, “The Embiid-ening, it’s happeninggggg!!!,” much to the dismay of the other customers. And I don’t blame him!
Now, of course, come the obvious caveats. It was only preseason. Embiid hardly played more than one quarter and neither team was taking it that seriously. Embiid will certainly have to prove not only his talent, but also his durability during the regular season. Unfortunately, he can’t wipe out his injury history with only one game, and the 76ers should still be slightly cautious about bringing him along.
More than anything, I was happy to see Embiid play without getting hurt. It’s admittedly a little morbid, but whatever unfortunate curse the 76ers have been operating under had me worried Embiid was going to go down after completing a simple post move.
Speaking of that curse, on Tuesday it was the confirmation that No. 1 pick Ben Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot—the same injury that wrecked Kevin Durant’s 2014–15 season. It’s shocking how much bad luck the 76ers have had with their top picks. Nerlens Noel missed his rookie year with an ACL injury. Jahlil Okafor ended last year on the bench after tearing his meniscus, and he remains out of the lineup. And, of course, Embiid happened.
It was certainly a long back road for Embiid, who missed the end of his only season in college due to a stress fracture in his back. Before the 2014 draft, Embiid broke his foot, which led to multiple surgeries that ultimately caused him to miss two full seasons. In addition to the injuries, Embiid had to carry the weight of expectations, become the poster child of Hinkie’s process and fight reports of immaturity while many wondered if he would become the NBA’s next lost big man.
But Embiid and the 76ers are on the right track, and having a couple veterans around this season should help ease the pressure ever so slightly on their young core. If Embiid has another game or two like Tuesday’s during the preseason, it may even be time to start wildly overreacting.