Joel Embiid set to clear final hurdle
Over three-and-a-half years since he was selected by the Sixers with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Joel Embiid is poised to clear the final hurdle preventing him from shouldering a “normal” NBA workload.
Over the weekend, Embiid is expected to play in his first set of back-to-backs when the Sixers host the Heat on Friday and then travel to Indiana on Saturday.
It’s been a long process (excuse the pun), but Embiid has hit all of the necessary benchmarks as his body has responded well to an increasing workload throughout the season. Slowly but surely, the minutes restriction became a non-factor for Embiid, as his minutes per game average has jumped from 25.4 during his rookie campaign to 31.6 during his sophomore season; a number that is on par with the tick that other starting centers get.
Embiid has already played in seven (and counting) more games this season than he did all of last year. During one stretch of the schedule in December, Embiid played a career-high 39 minutes against the Timberwolves on a Tuesday and then followed that up with a 49-minute run against the Thunder on Friday. The only thing missing is back-to-backs.
“I feel like that’s the missing part of my NBA career,” Embiid said recently of the lack of playing in back-to-backs.
Yes, Embiid will still miss games even after achieving full clearance. If you look around the league today, most players take a night off here and there, and considering the sheer size and injury history of the Sixers center, rest – or “load management” if you prefer – will always be a factor for Embiid, but that rest will be more a matter of feel rather than a rigid restriction.
Plus, the best part about ‘The Process’ being able to participate in back-to-backs is that it takes away the final piece of ammunition from Embiid’s detractors. If Embiid is able to play in b2b’s, my Twitter mentions won’t be filled with people saying “doesn’t even play back-to-backs” every time I say something about the big man.
For most involved, Saturday's match-up between the Sixers and Pacers at Banker's Life Fieldhouse will just be a normal February regular season game, but for the centerpiece of the Sixers it will be a big step.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.