Before the 76ers went out and accomplished a rare feat back on Wednesday – winning a basketball game – most of the questions centered around their biggest player.
Not to mention their franchise cornerstone.
Before getting to Joel Embiid, the Sixers did manage to place six players in double figures on their way to a 109-102 victory over the Washington Wizards. Jahlil Okafor led the way with 19 points in 20 minutes while Ersan Ilyasova scored 16, Nik Stauskas 15, Gerald Henderson 14, Dario Saric 13 points and 12 rebounds and Hollis Thompson with 11 points.
The Sixers earned a second win after Monday’s debacle in Houston.
Rookie Ben Simmons will likely be back sometime in January while Jerryd Bayless could return sometime this month. Help is on the way.
This whole season – and the Sixers’ future – hinges on the 7-foot-2 Embiid. This has been stated before and it must be reinforced.
The Sixers held out Embiid against the Wizards for mandated rest following two lost seasons due to injury. Embiid was scheduled to play Thursday night at Minnesota.
While the crowd of 14,863 had plenty to cheer about, they didn’t get a chance to see the brightest light in what has been a bleak three-plus seasons.
Asked why Embiid wasn’t playing, coach Brett Brown was succinct.
“I am a recipient of news from our medical staff and I follow the instructions,” Brown said. “It’s really that simple.”
Embiid has been terrific in the short stints he has played this season. He’s one of only two rookies in the NBA this season with multiple double-doubles along with teammate Dario Saric. Only one other rookie has one double-double – Oklahoma City’s Domantas Sabonis.
Embiid is averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per game (through Wednesday) and he’s just the sixth player since 1983-84 to post these averages through seven career games and the first since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992-93 with Orlando.
The No. 3 overall pick from the 2014 draft wants to play. He’s anxious to compete. But he never knows when he’ll be allowed to suit up. The Sixers obviously are willing to be as patient as possible with their marquee big man.
“You’re asking me questions I ask the sports science people,” Brown said. “It’s a very fluid thing. It’s not pre-ordained. It’s not scripted out for the month. It doesn’t work like that. And so Indiana is a perfect example. That caught me off guard. And so this is going to be the rhythm of Joel Embiid for a while. If you want to quantify it on a week-to-week assessment, fine. For the short term, whatever the number is and it’ll be exclusively judgmental over a short window. There isn’t anything that’s mapped out over a long period of time.”
Embiid remains on a 24-minute restriction per game. How many games he’ll play the rest of the season is anybody’s guess. Brown will continue to pepper the sports science staff looking for answers.
Who can blame him?
“I ask question after question after question,” Brown said. “It’s my job to. And my real job is to look at Joel responsibly and not selfishly. We all see the difference that Joel Embiid makes when he’s in the game. So that information is something where we all talk about it, we all challenge it and ask why. But at the end of the day, it’s delivered in a very thoughtful, responsive manner.”
Embiid will play against the Timberwolves. Beyond that, the unknown is going to drive everyone a little bit crazy.