How Joel Embiid Changed the Culture of One Former Dumpster Fire and Managed to Win ROY

Editors Note:  Meet Nick, our in-house NBA aficionado.  Nick brings all the lingo and savvy of the most ardent NBA Junkies.  If you like quality and educated hoops talk, tune in for his weekly NBA posts.  This week we start with Joel Embiid and his eye opening rookie campaign.

 

“The Sixers announce that Joel Embiid is out for the season…” It was the least shocking “Breaking News” notification I’ve received from ESPN in quite some time.

Embiid has played in 31 of a possible 246 games since being drafted third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. He sat out the first two seasons of his career due to recurring injuries. Prior to this season, the most memorable moment of his career was his repeated attempts at trying to get the attention of his celebrity crush, Rihanna.

This season was the first time he actually played an NBA game, and boy did he look good when he played. His play was so good that, combined with an overall weak season from the 2016 draft class, it looked like a lock for him to win Rookie of the Year. Now that he is officially out for the season however, that isn’t looking like as much of a lock. There are people saying how could a guy who hasn’t even played in half of the season possibly win Rookie of the Year? The answer is: he looked so much better than any other rookie when he was healthy and able to play.

Just look at what he was able to do on the court: He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. He scored in double figures in 19 of his 31 games, posted nine double-doubles, blocked at least three shots 12 times and shot a clean 37 percent from deep. He also had Philly in almost every game, giving his team a chance to win night after night. That’s precisely why he is my Rookie of the Year.

For what seems like decades now, the Philadelphia 76ers have looked like a team comprised of 5 “lucky” fans who won a chance to play in an NBA game. They consistently tried to lose and weren’t afraid of making it obvious. They added players who they thought couldn’t help them win, let any good player leave, they even traded Michael Carter-Williams about ten minutes after he won Rookie of the Year in 2014! That last one looks a little better in hindsight, but you get the point.

The Sixers were shamelessly trying to tank. “The Process,” as Sam Hinkie called it, was to lose as much as possible, acquire a plethora of first and second round picks, and attempt to build a future contender almost exclusively through the draft. As disgraceful as it seemed and how dreadful their teams were for so long, its hard to argue with the result. Depending on how the ping-pong balls fall in the lottery because of their trades with the Lakers (Philly gets the Lakers pick if it falls out of the top three) and Sacramento (The Sixers have the right to swap picks with the Kings if it falls in the top ten) they could have two picks in the top four.

Just picture it: The Celtics (thanks to the Nets) get the first pick, the Sacramento Kings get the second pick, the 76ers get the third, and the Lakers get the fourth. In that scenario, the Sixers would have the second and fourth picks of the draft! Now just imagine if Sacramento or Philly wins the lottery! So they could have a starting five that looks something like this: Lonzo Ball/Markelle Fultz, Malik Monk/Justin Anderson (already on the team), Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid. Whoa. That’s a great young team.

Back to my actual point, though. My most important reason for Joel Embiid winning Rookie of the Year is that he actually made the Philadelphia 76ers watchable again. Think about that for a second. The Sixers were watchable again and they were even winning some games! Holy crap! This team came out, had fun, and competed in games when Embiid was on the floor. The storylines weren’t if Embiid was ever going to get that date with Rihanna, or if he was a bust. They were instead, just how good is Embiid, how much better will they be when Simmons’ is playing too, and are we five years away from the Philadelphia 76ers being one of the best teams in basketball.

Embiid was the main reason for this drastic change in narrative. His mere presence on the court was a symbol of hope for Sixers fans and when he turned out to be really good, it was that much better. When he took “The Process” and made it his nickname he became that much more lovable. It would have been perfectly understandable for Embiid to come out this year and struggle to find his footing in a league that is so fast paced league after not playing in his first two seasons. No one told that to Embiid, I guess. He came out and straight balled in the 31 games he played. He was named to the Rising Stars challenge and the Skills Competition during All-Star Weekend.

The final point of this long, rambling spiel: His 31 games were better, more exciting, and a helluva lot more fun than any other rookie’s 82 game season. What he did on the court and what he showed he can be was more impressive than any other rookie. His defense looks legit. He has a chance to be one of, if not the, best defenders in the league. His offense is just as impressive. He can shoot the three, he can post guys up, he can be the roll or pop guy in pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop situations, and he can pass.

Not only does he win the Rookie of the Year in my book, but he is also going to be a top five guy if he can past these injury issues. That’s the only negative here. This is another season being cut short for him. This season feels different than the other two to be honest, however. There was no reason for him to keep playing, Philly already shut down Ben Simmons for the year and they weren’t going to challenge for a playoff seed so why not shut Embiid down and secure a higher draft pick? If they really wanted him to play, Embiid would not have been shut down, they’re just being extremely cautious with their prized possession.

Joel Embiid. Rookie of the Year. Future NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer. Future Mr. Rihanna.

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