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Joel Embiid continues to show progress as minutes increase

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, of Cameroon, plays against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

More minutes, more production, more progression.

Joel Embiid’s minutes continue to rise as the Philadelphia 76ers focus on getting him prepared to play between 20-24 minutes on opening night, which is now under two weeks away. His progression continued against the Washington Wizards on Thursday night, as Embiid delivered another solid performance by scoring 11 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in 14 minutes of play. The Sixers lost 100-79, but nobody cares about that given Embiid’s play.

He was able to get to the line, something Sixers coach Brett Brown expressed he wanted to see more of, hitting 7-of-8 free throws. For the fifth straight game, he blocked a shot, continuing to show his presence in the paint. He dominated on the glass, pulling down 10 of his 12 boards on the defensive end.

One particular play Embiid flashed his extraordinary skills was when defending three-time All-Star John Wall out on the perimeter. Caught in a switch, the 7-foot-2 Embiid was up to the challenge. When Wall tried to shake him, Embiid continued to shadow one of the league’s quickest guards, forcing him to take a fadeaway jumper with the shot clock set to expire:


Through five preseason games, Embiid has been impressive each and every time out, showing the ability to score in the paint, shoot from the perimeter, defend and put the ball on the floor, all while shaking off over two years of rust.

Now, there’s no question he looks good, but there are times when he looks like a guy who hasn’t played for over two seasons. He gets off balance, his footing isn’t all there just yet and you have to imagine he isn’t where he wants to be with his stamina just yet. But the main focus this season is making sure he remains healthy, and so far, so good.

It’s exciting for Sixers fans to see him out there and see those flashes of him living up to the tremendous hype. Put it this way, when you see this guy play, you’re not thinking he’s another Michael Olowokandi or Kwame Brown, players who had a ton of hype as No. 1 picks but simply could not play.

Embiid has “it,” and he’s showing it more and more every night. Once he gets his legs fully under him, he could be that dominating force the Sixers envisioned when they drafted him No. 3 overall in 2014.

Arguably the most impressive thing about Embiid’s numbers from Thursday is that he racked them up in such a short period of time on the floor. Just think of what he can do when his minutes get stretched out even more. It’s not hard to imagine him putting up 20/20 games.

Embiid also did this without the full complement of players the Sixers hope to have around him. Keep in mind, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Jerryd Bayless are all guys who expect to see major minutes, so how will that affect Embiid’s game when they’re out on the floor?

Bayless, one of the best three-point shooters in the league last season, along with Robert Covington, could be big contributors to Embiid’s success thanks to their ability to open up the floor with their shooting.

There are questions about how Embiid and Okafor will co-exist, but it could work. If they develop to a point where they both require double-teams, that’d open up room for them, or the shooters on the roster.

The fact that we’re even pondering these questions is a positive sign, and the progression Embiid has made on the court is allowing Sixers fans to fantasize about finally finding the player they were looking for at the start of “The Process.”

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