Playoff Embiid was worth the wait
Sixers fans waited four years (and two games) to see the prized piece of The Process play in the postseason.
Some doubted that the day would ever come, but it did.
Since he was drafted with the third overall pick in the highly-hyped 2014 Draft, Joel Embiid represented potential for the Sixers; the promise of future playoff runs and a chance to truly contend. But this year, that promise and potential morphed into a tangible reality as an Embiid-and-Simmons-led Sixers squad exceeded expectations, shot to the top-tier of the Eastern Conference and secured homecourt advantage in the first round (at least). A week into the postseason, the Sixers have the fourth-highest odds to win it all – higher than LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
Embiid went through a lot over those four years since he was selected by the Sixers – his early injury issues don’t need to be rehashed – but by the time he took the floor for his first career playoff game in Miami on Thursday night donning a protective mask that, when combined with his chiseled seven-foot frame, gave him a look reminiscent of a superhero, he had already worked his way into Philadelphia sports lore through pure perseverance. (And if he hadn’t, literally putting his face on the line for the team surely got him there).
Prematurely predicted by many to be a draft bust (or the next Greg Oden), Embiid’s rise to NBA superstardom is one that is a direction result of his own dedication and determination. It would have been easy for Joel to let all the negative noise get to him – and to an extent it did, as Embiid has admitted that there was a period of time that he wanted to quit basketball and return to his home in Cameroon after the death of his younger brother.
But ultimately, like many of the great ones do, Embiid used that doubt from detractors as motivation. Rather than quit, or sulk, he made the most of his the time away from the floor by working on other areas of his game and body (like strength and shooting), he stayed patient and yes, he trusted the process.
Knowing all that he has gone through over the past few seasons, it was hard not to feel good for Embiid as he helped lead the Sixers to back-to-back road wins in Miami in Games 3 and 4, especially knowing that this is just the beginning. With Embiid and Simmons in place – not to mention Saric, Covington, Fultz, the rest of the supporting cast, and cap space - the Sixers are positioned to be perennial contenders; the point of “the process.”
The playoff Embiid experience doesn’t end with well-balanced offense and dominant defense either, as Joel’s soundbites are a crucial part of the overall experience.
"I'm going to be a nightmare for [the Heat]," Embiid said after the Sixers 128-108 victory in Game 3. “…I love this moment.”
Never one to shy away from expectations, Embiid has some high ones for Philadelphia now that he is back in the fold.
"Our goal is to go to the Finals so we actually have a pretty good chance," Embiid said. "We have the talent."
The Sixers might not make the Finals this season, but they might, and when’s the last time that you could say that with a straight face? And if they don’t make it that far this year, Joel and Ben will be back next year, and the year after - more polished, more mature, and more experienced.
Sure, it took some time, but playoff Embiid is finally here, and it was worth the wait.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.