Joel Embiid appeared in an organized basketball game on Tuesday night for the first time since March 1, 2014. The on-court results were about what you’d expect from a player who hadn’t played in public for 948 days, but is so gifted that expectations for his debut season remain sky-high nonetheless: six points (2-6 FGs), four rebounds, two blocks, and three turnovers in 13 minutes, all of which came before halftime.
The 7-foot-2 big man’s talent was just as obvious as his rust. Embiid showed advanced footwork in the post, soft touch on his jumper, and a blend of length and timing all great shot-blockers possess. But he was also clearly not in game shape, didn’t fight for deep position on the block, and failed to successfully pass out of double-teams on multiple occasions. Needless to say, the highlights above aren’t just an indication of the 22-year-old’s potential – they’re also a reminder of how far Embiid must still go to reach it.
Consistent offensive prowess is almost sure to come. You can count the active players who boast Embiid’s combination of size, skill, and athleticism on one hand. Health permitting, the Philadelphia 76ers will eventually possess a rare go-to scorer at center. What could perhaps take Embiid from All-Star to superstar, though, is if his performance on that end of the floor can be matched his impact by the other – and a specific sequence from the Philadelphia’s 92-89 exhibition win over the Boston Celtics suggests it’s possible.