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October 16, 2017

Joel Embiid does not want a minutes restriction this season

As recently as two weeks ago, the big question surrounding Joel Embiid was whether he’d be ready for the season opener at all, after a long layoff from five-on-five basketball cast doubt on his regular season availability. Now that he’s cleared that hurdle, the next question is just a logical progression from there: how much will be allowed and able to play?

That answer is sort of complicated. Sixers coach Brett Brown insisted there would be some sort of restriction on Embiid’s minutes at least to begin the year, though he was hesitant to attach an exact number to his young center.

Rules changes have something to do with that. The NBA made a big adjustment to timeouts over the summer, which gives each coach less to work with and cuts down on their length when they are used. As Brown explained it, this will have an impact on whether Embiid plays an allotment of minutes in the teens or perhaps pushes into the mid-20s early on:

I don’t really know if there’s like a solid number. I can tell you if you were to choose a number, it’s somewhere in the teens. There’s a little bit of a looseness in relation to, it doesn’t have to be rigid if the game didn’t dictate some track meet. What I’ve told everybody is when you study NBA rules, timeouts aren’t as frequent, timeouts are shorter, this is like I’m coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves, I can have guys at the scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn’t favor Jo when you get flying up and down. The minutes thing we’re going to learn more about that, there will be some minutes restriction, but it’s also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at a rigid number.

Everyone will, of course, focus on the specific range mentioned by Brown, and that group includes the center in question. Moments after he said he hoped he wouldn’t have any minutes restrictions, a reporter brought up the teens suggestion floated by Brown, and Embiid was caught off guard by the implication.

“Oh sh*t, I didn’t know about that,” said Embiid. “That’s very disappointing, I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today’s practice and tomorrow’s practice.”

He continued to stress how prepared he is to play more minutes when pressed on where he feels his conditioning level is at. “I felt good in the Miami game, I played like what, 14 minutes in the first half? I felt like I could have played 30 minutes, I felt good,” said Embiid. “I’m still not there, but my body’s getting in better shape and I feel great.”

This isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) time a player disagreed with his coaching and/or medical staff about how much he’s prepared to play this early in the season. If we’ve learned anything about how the Sixers are going to handle their gargantuan center, he should probably expect this sort of caution for most of the season’s early stretch, as he and the team get their legs under them.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be a bystander in the story of his health. There will be games when he’s locked into a great individual battle, or he’s right up near his minutes cap with the game on the line. When that happens, Embiid assured reporters he would not be afraid to speak up and make sure he has a say in whether he’ll remain on the court, even if he does have faith the medical staff will put him in a position to succeed.

“I got a voice, they got to listen to me. It depends on how I feel, so if I feel great and my body feels great and my knee is fine, I should play 30 minutes or more,” said Embiid. “Definitely going to have my opinion on that, and they’re going to hear me. We’re going to discuss it, but at the same time I trust them, I trust the doctors, and even if I feel good, they have a plan behind it.

All things considered, it sounds like the Sixers are looking to strike a balance between letting their franchise center spread his wings and protecting him from overextending himself too soon. This is a team with playoff aspirations, after all, and reaching that goal will depend heavily on the amount of games Embiid can suit up for.

Despite what appears to be a disagreement over the restriction, Embiid’s final words on Monday suggested he’s prepared for anything.

“I guess you gotta trust the process.”