Plays like this from Embiid are inevitable. Question is, will his mindset grow too, or will his ego get the best of him?
In recent years the 76ers have been notorious for gambling on coveted big men. Just ask Andrew Bynum, who played in 0 games after the team gave up uber talented forward Andre Iguodala and rising prospect Nikola Vucevic to enlist his services. Ask Nerlens Noel, who has far from played up to his 15 point, 8 rebound, 2.5 blocks 2014 projections on a team where putting up those numbers isn’t inconceivable. And now the 76ers cross their fingers for Nigerian KU product Joel Embiid, who has yet to take the court after suffering a stress fracture to his navicular last summer, and whose professional resume includes trolling Kim Kardashian on Twitter and leading pregame dance huddles prior to tip. Yes, the entertainment is there for Sixers fans to savor in the midst of their historically bad season. However, the 20 year old’s actions also draw eerie comparisons to Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, whose languid approach to the game has brought him zero rings and many first round exits. For the Sixers to avoid the Dwight-mare 2.0, Embiid must clean up his act, which while amusing, is absurdly inane and toxic to a team trying to win big in the long run.
Now why would someone not want to be like Dwight? He’s a 5 time All-Defensive Selection and a three time winner of the NBA’s most prestigious defenseman. He’s a former Slam Dunk Champion. He’s garnered four rebounding crowns. He’s an 8 time all-star. Yada yada yada. But when people ask who the best center in the NBA is today, others elect Marc Gasol, Demarcus Cousins, Joakim Noah, or Al Jefferson, among others. Why? Because Dwight is too talented, so talented he comes off as not taking the game seriously enough. Just ask Kobe. And if you don’t believe us, perhaps this 2008 SI cover will do the trick:
Yes, when you’re in your twenty-something’s and challenging other players to push up contests, it’s funny. But when you’re dawning on thirty and lofting half court hook shots prior to a critical game against the Indiana Pacers, not so much. People, and players, tire easily And this is the quandary that Embiid and the Sixers face. Embiid currently rests in the cute phase, an innocent, exotic baby, still learning the ropes to a game he started pursuing four years ago, a game in which he averaged over three blocks per game per 30 minutes . He’s dominant, no doubt, but Embiid needs to be more than a man among boys; he needs to be professional.
Which is where Dwight struggled. When the time came for Dwight to come together, to play his best basketball in the midst of a contract year, for basketball’s bedrock featuring four future Hall of Famers and a coach set on winning, he dwindled. He clashed. He flat out left. Which begged Stephen A. Smith’s patented question ‘Can he ever carry a team?’ The answer is no.
Another note on Dwight. His game never evolved. He never became a respectable free throw shooter (in fact he’s gotten worse). He never developed a superior post game (even with Olajuwon in town). He’s been who he is. A physically dominant rim finisher and protector. But he could have been more. He can be more if he wants to. But when a blueprint has been working for 10 years, it’s hard to bring out the tools. That makes watching his body begin to give out even harder.
When I look at Embiid I see Dwight and I don’t want to. I want to see Embiid here, in Philly, giving back to the many bloodthirsty fans of the city of Brotherly Love. He is our brother and we’re here to support him. But to have our unconditional support, he needs to give up the antics. To cut the crap. Come October 31st, 2015 we want Olajuwon 2.0. It’s up to him to make it happen.