831 days after being becoming the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Sixers center Joel Embiid played in his first real(ish) NBA game against real NBA players.
Embiid played 13 minutes in last night’s preseason game against the Boston Celtics, and it felt sort of surreal to see him doing basketball things in real life. He looked fine while doing it, too, finishing the game with six points, four rebounds, and two blocks. Here are some very unexciting highlights:
“Get through 13 minutes of a preseason game without your surgically repaired foot exploding into a million pieces” was just the first on a long list of milestones that Embiid must clear before Sixers’ decision to tank in order to draft a seriously injured player can be justified.
It won’t be an easy thing for Embiid to pull off. NBA history has not been kind to big men with foot problems, and the Sixers’ three-year tanking campaign has not left him in an environment all that well-suited to nurture his skills. Even with 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons on the shelf with his own foot problems, Embiid still has to find a way to succeed on a team with a crowded and ill-fitting front court.
The Sixers have won just 47 games in three seasons, and are well beyond the time frame in which progress toward becoming a real NBA team was supposed to be made. What sort of steps forward they’ll be able to make this season mostly depends on what Embiid can do, and that’s a lot to ask of a rookie with a fragile foot on a poorly-constructed team whose best, or at least most important, players aren’t all that good and do basically what he does. Good luck, Joel.