Joel Embiid campaigned tirelessly for votes on social media last season to be selected for the All-Star Game held in New Orleans. As much as the young Cameroonian wanted the experience, he wanted something more: the chance to land a date with music superstar Rihanna. The key to that date would have been the All-Star nomination. So Embiid campaigned. And although he got the votes, it wasn’t enough.
On Monday night, the Philadelphia center came face-to-face with two players who have six All-Star appearances between them in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. In addition to that, they also possess seven All-NBA and two NBA All-Defensive Team selections, packed into a staggering 16 years of NBA experience.
Embiid, on the other hand, has played parts of two seasons in the league he joined three years ago. The Cameroonian forward, who has been severely limited by injuries, missed the whole of the first and several weeks of the second season. One thing Embiid has, though, is confidence. Lots and lots of confidence. He talks a good game, and delivers on court … as much as his injury-ravaged career would allow.
So, on Monday, when the Sixers arrived at Staples Center for the game against the Los Angeles Clippers, two things were almost certain: Embiid was going to have fun, and the Clippers’ All-Star forwards were going to try and brow-beat the young Philly team. Both ‘certainties’ occurred.
Embiid, determined to enjoy himself against this team and the two superstars he has never faced before (he missed the two meetings last season), set about establishing that he is one of the rising stars of the league. And has been the case this season – first with Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat) in a pre-season game, and Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) – it almost escalated.
Midway into the second quarter, Embiid received the ball on the left side of the key, he pumped-faked and drop-stepped in quick succession, with Jordan guarding him. The two-time NBA All-Defensive player fell for the move, and leapt out of the way. With the rim exposed, the Cameroonian took off for a dunk. Griffin, who was waiting to cover his teammate, was too slow to react. He simply watched Embiid sink the dunk. Jordan looked at his teammate, tapped his own chest, and made downward movements: ‘Calm down, we’ll get him next time.’ It didn’t happen.
Embiid ended up playing the most minutes of his career (36), scored 32 points and added another career-high 16 rebounds. Griffin and Jordan combined for 31 points and 11 rebounds. Jordan fouled out after playing 30 minutes. He wasn’t the only one. Willie Reed, a third-year center, also fouled out. Both were guarding Embiid, who went to the free-throw line 16 times.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said postgame that the numbers posted by the Cameroonian “reflects a mentality way more than a statistic”. He also thought “his mentality tonight was dominant. I think there’s more to give, even more dominance.” That is the story of Embiid. He has more to give. He may not be regarded as an enduring superstar in the league until he has received at least three All-Star nominations. And he will have no legacy until he has played a huge part in leading Philadelphia back to the playoffs, and they make a deep run.
Embiid’s star is rising, and he will dominate more as he develops a better understanding with Ben Simmons. He is an avid student of the game and will likely break more records. Hopefully, he will be injury-free and get more chances to dance on the hardwood with the superstars in the league – like Giannis Antetokounmpo he will win some, lose some, and go on to carve a niche for himself.
Until then, Joel Embiid is another rising star but one with a huge future. His performance against the Clippers showed a player whose ceiling is very high, and the way he let the more experienced players on the Clippers team have it, he could be the African star hoop fans have been waiting for.
By Akinbode Oguntuyi
@booday10 on Twitter
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