September 16, 2016
On Thursday afternoon at PCOM, in its final days as the official practice facility of the Philadelphia 76ers, Brett Brown was watching a good portion of the Sixers roster scrimmage alongside a couple of visitors who understand what it means to play at a high level in Philadelphia: Billy Cunningham and Charles Barkley.
At one point during the session, Brown turned to Barkley and asked if he had a player comparison for Joel Embiid. Sir Charles, never shy to offer an opinion, struggled to come up with a name.
Brown doesn’t usually have difficulty dreaming up player comps, even for intriguing highly drafted players like Ben Simmons and Dario Saric. To his coach, Embiid is unique. Just listen to Brown rattle off his offensive arsenal.
“Back down, back down, dunk,” Brown said. “Back down, back down, jump hook. A post player. Catch, turn, and face. Back somebody off. Rocker step, jump shot, bank shot, dunk. Come up the floor, trailing, he can catch it easily and accurately to date rise up and hit a three. Or catch it and actually dribble the ball and do something with it.
“And so when you say, ‘Well who does that at 7-foot-2, 276 [pounds],’ that world shrinks.”
When you listen to Brown describe Embiid, there’s an element of “Well, what can’t he do?” To date, there is an easy answer: stay healthy. But unlike last offseason, Embiid has made it through the summer without any major setbacks.
The opener against Oklahoma City is a little over five weeks away, and Brown expects to see Embiid in both training camp and the preseason.
“Joel is on track to play, as we all know,” Brown said. “We will learn more about the restrictions that will come his way, we know. But what I see so far gives us great reason to be extremely excited.”
Embiid is ready to go, but to use a baseball analogy, the Sixers are going to have him on a pitch count. Brown is very confident in Embiid’s abilities, but even he can’t deny Embiid’s questionable health history.
Could that mean no back-to-backs for the big man? Maybe he’s restricted to 15 to 20 minutes per game. Brown doesn’t know exactly how the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft will be limited in his “rookie” season, but no matter how effective he is, Embiid won’t be playing Tom Thibodeau minutes.
“I think I see it, but I think we’re going to learn a lot more when the lights go on."
“I think we all know that parameters are coming,” Brown said. “We all know that less is more. We want to walk him down in a very responsible, thoughtful way where we continue to deliver him to the court in a calculated way.”
Brown will need to win more games in 2016, but from here, his main objective is to move Embiid and Simmons forward in their development.
Maybe then he’ll be able to offer a better comparison.
“I think I see it, but I think we’re going to learn a lot more when the lights go on,” Brown said.
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