Beauty and the Beast: Analyzing the sensational NBA debut of Joel Embiid

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Whew. That sure was something wasn’t it? After waiting  a bit to cool off I still feel like I need a cold shower. Rewatching Embiid’s first game highlight tape somewhere between three and 50 times probably didn’t help but it did leave me with one indelible impression: that was exactly what we’ve been waiting for.

It wasn’t all perfect. Massive reveals never are. It was fitting, though, for the hope we’ve been harboring since June 26th, 2014. Sure, we wanted tonight to be a win, with Joel Embiid not only making his healthy debut, but also dropping the first 100 point game since Wilt and the first 50 rebound game since…also Wilt?

That wasn’t the hope though, not really. We were hoping that those interminable 831 days of waiting weren’t for naught. Embiid was never going to come out and revolutionize the NBA, transform his skeleton into adamantium, and cure cancer on his first night. In order to reward our hope he simply had to start on that first part (the other two will come in time, I’m sure). He delivered.

Last night, after two-plus years off from basketball Joel Embiid dropped 20, 7, and 2 on rough-and-tumble Steven Adams and the Thunder, or hadn’t you heard? He did so in just under 22 minutes; giving himself a preposterous 33, 12, and 4 per 36 statline (I rounded up on all those because why not).

He did it in the most JoJo way possible too: ebullient, yelling to Adams and anyone else that he couldn’t be stopped.  Hell, given his penchant for personal flair I’m half shocked he didn’t end the game at half court belting Maximus Decimus Meridius’ speech. Is this not why we are here? To watch Sam Hinkie’s prodigal son rain down threes, dream-shakes, and face-seering gifs?

All that said, I do have a small bucket of lukewarm water to dump on all this excitement. We’ll get to the awesome stuff soon enough, but I have do the “meh” first because once I get in on the highlights there’s no coming back. So let’s just muscle through Broccoli before dessert, deal? Deal.

The Meh

    • Embiid needs to keep working on establishing good post position. He has a tendency to set up shop in the midrange which in turn seems to make him more likely to go to his faceup jumper. That’s a fine shot but it won’t be were his bread is buttered, nor should it.  Look where Embiid starts his attack in the below clip. He has to use a few dribble fakes to make up ground before he even starts his post-up and even then he’s pretty far away facing a strong defender in Adams. He’s able to draw a foul because giant Embiid powers, but it would have been a lot easier if he’d just carved out better position earlier 

 

 

  • Likely a product of practicing mostly alone during his time off, Embiid looked surprisingly robotic on a few of his post ups, and not in a good way. On one occasion he hit Adams with the same move twice in a row, failing both times. Almost like when the CPU opponent in 2K glitches out and gets stuck throwing hesitation moves until the shot clock runs out. With an exception or two, it appeared Embiid pre-planned which post moves he was going to do before he even had the ball. This comes in stark contrast to the reactive moves he threw back at Kansas. Given his learning curve, and the obvious explanation of “rust,” I’m sure this won’t be a lingering issue. Even by later in the game he seemed better at making moves based on the defenders body and positioning. You can see a perfect example of this in the clip. Adams is clearly giving him a lane to the right, Embiid’s strong hand, and not biting on the jab steps. Embiid doesn’t pick up on this, jabs a few more times and then hoists a midrange jumper. He made it, awesome. But it wasn’t the best shot/move available.

 

https://streamable.com/9m2y

 

 

  • Embiid Stumble Watch 2016: Since college, and all throughout the preseason I’ve noticed that for an athlete as strong, coordinated and graceful as Embiid, he always seems to be off balance, stumbling, and falling over with little provocation. Go back and watch even just highlights from the first two preseason games. Even on positive plays: blocks on Jaylen Brown and Kelly Oubre for example, he hits the deck with minimal contact. I’m no kinesthesiologist or physiologist but I can’t imagine that’s a good sign overall (I have some theories, maybe for a later time). As the preseason went on he seemed to get his sea legs under him. Last night we again had at least one instance where he fell over after a move for seemingly no reason. Just keeping an eye on it.

This super nitpicky segment brought to you by, Karma. In perfect world, this whole piece would be nothing but Embiid highlights and flame emojis. But, since we’re still tiptoeing on the edge of a navicular bone, best to play it safe and throw karma a bone here. 

The Awesome

  • All of it. The rest of everything was fantastic.

Ok, ok, some actual details. How about his defensive presence? I’m not just talking about blocked shots. He had a pair of those too (more on that later). Just his size and court awareness are going to save countless rim attempts and baskets in our favor. There was at least one notable occasion where Russell Freakin’ Westbrook drove with a head of steam, saw Embiid, and realized discretion was the better part of valor. When cyborg-freight-train Westbrook is being deterred by your presence good things are coming.

  • That block at the end! Did you see that!? Sure, the game was all but over already, whatever. The distance he covered, halfcourt to endline in what seems like 2 steps. The timing and the ups to pin that shot, not to mention the force. Just watch it again:

 

  • Also in that play: Seriously NBA!? Can we do something about the camera people being that close? I know I’m not the first person to bring it up. Embiid went down at the end of that play tripping on someone and my heart almost stopped. Those photographers aren’t far enough back for regular NBA players, much less the Embiid-Yeti we have out there now. Commissioner Silver, get on it.

 

  • How about the smoothness of his post moves? I know I just criticized him for being robotic, but some of his moves were a thing of beauty. Look at him pirouette away from Adams for the floater! That’s unbelievable agility and footwork for a guy his size.

https://streamable.com/63ng

 

  • Lastly, let’s relive Joel Embiid’s first NBA points again. The came with a drool-worthy compliment of skills: A credible pump-fake from three point range to get the defensive switch to commit; then first step quick enough to put shooting guard Andre Roberson on his heels; THEN fake spin and spin back with a fluidity Steve Smith himself might be proud of; cap all that off with a 16 foot jumper swished. Man that kinda thing is going to be fun to watch all season.

https://streamable.com/8o9f

 

I’m sure with infinite time I could fine increasingly infinite thing to gawk over in Joel Embiid’s first game. Doing so risks missing all the amazing things he’s sure to do in his next outing. While I’m sure it will help with his minute restriction it almost seems cruel that the 7-6 got a two day break after their season opener. Oh well, next up a Saturday day game to cure your Friday night’s hangover vs. Dwight Howard and the Hawks of Atlanta.

 

 

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