When you start out your career building up a per-minute statistical resume that would make you the best player in NBA history, that tends to get you noticed. But when you do that as the long-promised savior of a franchise that demolished multiple seasons with the express purpose of finding a savior, it’s even easier to get carried away. When it comes to Joel Embiid, it’s always been difficult to keep things in perspective.
A look at Embiid’s per-36 numbers (as of earlier this week) is downright jaw-dropping — 30.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. Embiid is shooting a ridiculous 58 percent from three-point range, and while that long-range mark will come down, he’s done enough to establish that shot as a legitimate part of his game. He’d also be sitting among the league leaders in blocks per game if he qualified in minutes. Essentially, he’s fulfilling every wild fantasy one could have about a center in the modern NBA — a rim protector who drags his counterpart 25 feet away from the hoop, with silky post moves to go with it.
Plays like that from a rookie are exhilarating, and one truly has to work hard not to get carried away. It’s heady stuff to think that The Process, the multi-year tank job that ticked off damn near the entire NBA, may have actually produced the franchise-changing superstar it so brazenly coveted (and Ben Simmons hasn’t even played a game yet). That Embiid has taken to calling himself The Process is perfect — he is the living proof that maybe Sam Hinkie was on to something, especially if their commitment to losing gave them the patience to let the big man’s foot heal so he could reach his potential.
Of course, the 76ers have essentially tried to cover Embiid in bubble wrap, limiting him to about 20 minutes per game and holding him out of back-to-backs, but the impact he’s made within those limitations is truly staggering. It’s impossible to say if this treatment is truly preserving his body, but it would be hard to justify a heavy workload for such an important piece when the team is still so far away from contention.
In order to actually become a good team, Philly desperately needs to find backcourt talent. Once they get it — and Embiid has a pick-and-roll partner to truly open up the full possibilities of his game — they could become legit faster than anyone imagined. What’s more, Embiid isn’t even the Sixers’ only exciting rookie (more on that later). There’s a basketball team worth watching in Philadelphia again, and it feels great.
Let’s rank the rest of the rookies!