By Michael Mugerwa
Philadelphia has started the 2016-2017 regular season in classic Sixers’ fashion; top draft pick Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with a foot fracture, the team is overstocked at the 5 spot, and they have tipped off the season with a woeful 1-7 record. However, Veterans Day served as a glimmer of hope for Philly and the years to come, as rookie Joel Embiid put up an impressive 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks, leading the Sixers to an 105-109 OT victory over Indiana. Although his FG percentage hovered around 30%, Embiid manned the court like a seasoned veteran, barking encouragement towards his teammates, scoring 16 in the 4th (including a crucial three-pointer), and taking defensive imperative in the final minutes of the game. November has been a breakout month for Embiid, as he is averaging almost 20 PPG in only 23 minutes, a 42% usage rate– remarkable stats for a guy in his second month as an active NBA player.
The performance we have seen from Embiid this month is a relieving final response to questions about his ceiling as an NBA player, his maturity, and his role in Philly’s lineup. Joel has shown off some of the things which made him highly sought coming out of Kansas: his nifty footwork, his off-ball mobility, his defensive presence. However, fans and analysts alike have been most impressed by the newer aspects of his game, such as his newfound confidence in his range and his improving handle. Embiid’s strength and poise against tough matchups has also revealed upside, as he has played well against Orlando’s Vucevic, OKC’s Adams, and Miami’s Whiteside.
Embiid does need to improve on his rebounding and shooting/free-throw percentages, but otherwise, he appears to be a very worthy candidate for Rookie of The Year. As soon as January, the Sixers should be in an ideal position with both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor healthy. Joel appears primed to accept the starting role once his body can handle the workload, leaving the Sixers with the tough choice to place either Okafor or Noel on the trading block.