“Trust The Process,” Joel Embiid says after finishing up a 24-minute interview session at Sixers media day, eliciting some laughs from reporters in the room. Embiid has not played a game since March 1, 2014, but it appears that’s about to change.
The 22-year-old center, who has been forced to sit out the first two seasons of his NBA career due to multiple foot surgeries, says he expects to play in Philadelphia’s preseason opener against Boston on Oct. 4.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Embiid said, citing his injuries, his team’s on-court struggles and the death of his brother in Africa. “It’s been really hard.”
Embiid is in really good spirits now, however. He may be on a minutes restriction and unable to play in back-to-backs, but his self-confidence is evident.
“I haven’t played in two years, but my game has gotten so much better,” he said. “If you watch the game tape, I’m not the same guy. I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m going to be just fine.”
Embiid, a 7-footer who says he weighs 275 pounds, was chosen by former GM Sam Hinkie — the man whose process paid off in the form of high lottery picks Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Nerlens Noel — with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 draft. He has the potential to be a game-changer on both offense and defense if he can stay healthy.
“From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have about a 20-year career,” Embiid said, jokingly. “I think of myself as a complete player.”
Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 28 games at Kansas before injuring his back and missing the NCAA tournament as a result. He struggled with his decision to leave college after just his freshman season, he said, and was seriously contemplating a return to school before mentor Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and other NBA players convinced him to change his mind and enter the draft.
“This is a training camp that for the first time since I’ve been here I think will be incredibly competitive, relative to roster spots themselves, and we’re really excited about the guys that we have in camp who have a chance to earn a job, Kay Felder being one of those kids we anticipate will have a good run at something for us, so we feel comfortable at the point guard position as we sit, at least from a front-office perspective we do.”
In a capped system like the NBA has in place, targeting aging players on veteran minimum deals is simply the reality of fielding a full team when you already have max players taking up most of the pie like the Cavs do with James, Irving and Love.
The key is having those vets contribute in the margins, like Jefferson did last year, and not to miss on them, as was the case of Shawn Marion the season before.
Oh, and having someone like James with the body resilience of a teenager as he enters into his thirties certainly helps too.
Embiid didn’t think he could handle living on his own at such a young age, but each year he has grown and matured through adversity. He has no regrets about leaving early, and while he loves watching his old college games, he can’t stand watching college basketball anymore.
“I feel like they don’t know how to play,” Embiid said, citing a lack of spacing at the collegiate level.
Embiid is stronger, better, faster now, yearning to dominate in the post and expand his game out to the 3-point line. And yes, he has aspirations of learning how to play point guard, too, because of course he does.
During the rehab-setback-rehab-setback-rehab process, Embiid says he has learned to be patient.
Given that their team has lost 199 games the past three seasons, Sixers fans have, too. But equipped with an exciting young core of bigs, the future is brighter than ever.