Before Joel Embiid burst onto the scene at Kansas as a possible number-one overall draft pick, I was reluctantly questioning “The Process” that Philadelphia 76ers basketball was engulfing itself in about four years ago.
I was reluctant because I knew there was a good chance Sam Hinkie’s plan could work. From a probability standpoint, it made a lot of sense that stockpiling draft picks and increasing your odds of picking earlier would turn into a great player or two. Still, I was glad it wasn’t MY team in full-on tank mode.
While the 76ers struggled through one of the longest stretches of ineptitude I’ve ever consciously witnessed, I was satisfied watching my Wizards exit the playoffs early as a model of consistent mediocrity – no one in the east was going to knock off LeBron James anyway, right?
Now, in the fifth season since a Jrue Holiday-led Sixers team bowed out in the conference semifinals and a stick of dynamite was set to the roster, the ideal of “The Process” appears to have been born into the form of a 7-foot, 250-pound force of nature. In what is effectively his rookie season, after injuries kept him from the court since being drafted third overall in 2014, Embiid is giving Philadelphia its first bit of in-season optimism since Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year in the 2013 season (before being traded the next year).
Through Jan. 19, the Sixers were +68 with Embiid on the floor and -292 without him. He’s a complete game changer, and even more so in the closing moments of games. Of players with at least 50 combined minutes played in the final six minutes of 4th quarters over that span, Embiid’s 38.5 PER ranked third behind Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook.
The only rookie in NBA history to average more points per 36 minutes than Joel Embiid is Wilt Chamberlain.
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) January 16, 2017
Embiid can shoot from long range, he’s skilled with has back to the basket – he’s got a soft touch and silky smooth moves – and his combination of footwork and handles is incredibly rare for someone his size. Oh, and he’s really good on defense. Before Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers, Embiid was on a stretch of 10 games scoring 20-plus points (he got hurt and finished with 18). He fell one game shy of tying Allen Iverson’s franchise rookie record of 20-plus points in 11 straight games. And when Embiid does score at least 20, the 76ers are 10-6.
“The Process” is finally a tangible thing that people can see and believe in, and the next part of it, 2016 first-round pick Ben Simmons, may finally play following the All-Star break. Combine Simmons with Embiid, and a surging Nerlens Noel – the 2013 first-round pick – and Hinkie’s plan seems to be a model others may want to copy.
Teams should take heed before going all-in on the tank, however, because the end game for Philadelphia is far and away. The final step in this drawn-out process is competing for a championship, because if the process was only good enough to get to the playoffs and make early-to-mid-round exits, then Philadelphia wasted 4-5 seasons to become the Washington Wizards. “The Process” is only complete when the 76ers win a championship, or at least make a push for the finals. It must be said though, the future looks bright with Embiid, and being competitive in the playoffs soon seems like a realistic possibility.