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February 15, 2019

What they're saying: Is Sixers center Joel Embiid the next face of the NBA?

Plus a look at the latest NBA power rankings heading into the All-Star break

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021519_Embiid-LeBron_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.

With the NBA officially in its All-Star break — and the Philadelphia 76ers coming off the toughest part of their entire schedule — it seems like as good a time as any to check in on how the rest of the world views the new-look Sixers before shifting all our focus to the stretch run ahead of them. 

Currently, the Sixers are 37-21, tied with the Celtics for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, and sit just one game out of the third spot, which currently belongs to the Pacers (38-20). But after finishing that ridiculously tough 12-game stretch that included matchups with the top teams from both conferences at 7-5, they have to like where they find themselves at the break, especially given that they're still working a new starter into the lineup, as well as several new rotation players who will only help make Brett Brown's team more dangerous down the stretch. 

But first, Joel Embiid (Team Giannis) and Ben Simmons (Team LeBron) will represent the Sixers at the All-Star Game in Charlotte this weekend, before the team prepares for their final two dozen games of the season. We'll have a lot more on Embiid and where the Sixers stack up compared to the rest of the NBA in a minute, but let's take a look at what Kyle Neubeck and our sports staff have been saying about the Sixers this past week...

• Sixers mailbag: Is Brett Brown responsible for failings against Boston Celtics? [Kyle Neubeck]

• Is Sixers' current starting five their best line up of all time? [Evan Macy]

• Joel Embiid's struggles against Al Horford continue to haunt Sixers against Celtics [Neubeck]

• Has Elton Brand become the front-runner for NBA Executive of the Year? [Joe Santoliquito]

Now, as promised, here's the latest look at what the rest of the local and national media are saying about the Sixers...

The case for Embiid

Tim Bontemps | ESPN.com

It's no secret that LeBron James is currently the face of the NBA — and has been for some time — but there's a good chance that we already know the name of the player set to take that mantle when the King's career hits its twilight. Whether it's a current NBA All-Star (Giannis Antetokounmpo or Anthony Davis) or a projected No. 1 draft pick (Zion Williamson), it's not too early to start projecting stuff like this. At least that's what ESPN's basketball writers think.

They had five NBA writers each make the case for five different players who could be the next face of the NBA. In addition to the three listed above, ESPN also took a look at Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic and, you guessed it, Sixers center Joel Embiid.

Here's some of the case for Embiid, as presented by Tim Bontemps... 

In looking for the player who is going to fill some of the biggest shoes in NBA history -- replacing LeBron James as the face of the sport -- why not choose literally the biggest star in the sport today?

When running through a list of the things that would allow a player to become the face of the NBA today, Joel Embiid checks every one of them.

For starters, he is a tremendous player. Despite missing two full seasons and most of a third with injuries, the 24-year-old is one of the NBA's most gifted stars. He is an efficient hub of the Philadelphia 76ers' offense and a massive anchor of the team's defense, making him one of the league's most valuable players. His ascent has been the biggest reason the 76ers have risen from the rubble of The Process to one of the league's elite teams.

On top of that, Embiid also has a personality specifically built for today's media environment. His social media game -- whether it be Instagram posts or tweets -- is entertaining, and he plays to the camera in virtually every setting. He is, in every way, the modern embodiment of Shaquille O'Neal -- another guy who, for a time, was arguably the face of the league. ...

And as the sport transitions away from the LeBron James era, Embiid is as good a bet as anyone to take over The King's throne and make it his own.  [espn.com]

A big problem for Sixers?

Brian Murphy | Liberty Ballers

Of course, not everything has been rosy for Embiid lately, who struggled mightily against Al Horford and the Celtics in the Sixers' penultimate game before the break. Embiid's frustrations boiled over after the game, resulting in a $25,000 fine for saying that the officials "f**king sucked." 

Horford, however, isn't the only big man that bothers Embiid. One of the East's newest big men, Marc Gasol, who was traded from Memphis to Toronto at the deadline, has also given Embiid fits. Considering these are two of the teams currently standing between the Sixers and the Eastern Conference title they covet, it will be interesting to see how these matchups play out downs the stretch.

Horford’s role as the Embiid Strangler is well documented, but he’s not the only one — fellow Eastern Conference contenders Marc Gasol and even Brook Lopez (to an extent) also have impressive track records against the Sixers' superstar, something that will have to change if the Sixers plan on getting out of the East alive. ...

Horford’s combination of strength and speed give him the physical attributes to keep up with The Process, but his defensive discipline is what frustrates Embiid into the bad shots and turnovers that can swing the close games that routinely take place between the Sixers and Celtics.

While Horford is the headliner of the group, it is Gasol who has had the most success at stopping Embiid from scoring the ball. In their five regular season matchups, Gasol is 3-2 against Embiid, and has never allowed the Sixers big man to score over 20 points in a game or shoot over 50 percent from the field.

Like Horford, Gasol’s combination of physical tools combined with his savvy defensive prowess give him the ability to frustrate Embiid, whose best offense often comes off pump fakes and Dream-like post moves. When heady defenders like Gasol and Horford stay disciplined against Embiid, he and the offense around him struggle. If they can continue to single cover Embiid and make him work hard for the money, the Celtics and Raptors will have a huge advantage over the Sixers in a potential playoff series.  [libertyballers.com]

Power moves only

Grant Hughes | Bleacher Report

Now, let's check in on some national power rankings at the All-Star break. First up is Bleacher Report, where the Sixers held firm in fifth, one spot ahead of the Celtics.

The Philadelphia 76ers' new starting five will be a problem for opponents.

We're obviously trafficking in small samples, but since it added Tobias Harris to the pre-existing core of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid, Philly is 3-1, and its first unit has a plus-24.6 net rating, which, incredibly, tops the plus-21.0 last year's starters posted to lead the league among groups with at least 500 minutes of shared court time.

They were even a plus-2.2 in Tuesday's loss to the Celtics. If the Sixers can stagger their stars and/or get reliable production from Jonathon Simmons, Mike Scott, T.J. McConnell, James Ennis III and Boban Marjanovic, you could make a case they'll be the best team in the East the rest of the way.

Finally, big news! Dared to shoot all game by LeBron James—who routinely gave him 15-plus feet of disrespectful cushion—Simmons cracked. He took a genuine three-point shot in Sunday's 143-120 blowout of the Lakers. It was the first non-heave attempt of his career, and he missed it, but at least he gave it a try. That's progress.  [bleacherreport.com]

Movin' on up

Kurt Helin | ProBasketballTalk

Over at ProBasketballTalk, the Sixers actually climbed a spot in the rankings this week despite going just 1-1. They're currently sixth in the NBA, but still remain one behind the Celtics, who handed the Sixers their only loss since the team acquired Tobias Harris & Co. at the deadline last week.

The addition of Tobias Harris to the starting lineup in Philadelphia with Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, and Joel Embiid has worked very well so far. Through three games, that fivesome is +21 in 53 minutes, and that includes a 14-7 run against Denver late in that game that helped Philadelphia seal a win. However, as the loss to the Celtics Tuesday showed, the question will be the bench behind those five can bring (even with Brett Brown staggering his stars some). In the last three games, the Sixers are +6 total with lineups that are not the starters (and the bench units were -7 against Boston).  [nba.nbcsports.com]

What the Fultz?

Noah Levick | NBC Sports Philadelphia

He may not be on the Sixers anymore — and he may not have actually mentioned them by name — but it sure sounds like former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is talking about the Sixers here. 

He didn’t say it with anything approaching a malicious tone, but one of Fultz’s comments about why he’s looking forward to joining the Magic could be perceived as a shot at Brett Brown and the Sixers’ coaching staff.

“I think it excites me to have coaches that you know are going to push you to be better,” he said, “and not just tell you what you want to hear.”

Brown had only 33 games to coach Fultz, but he had to cope with plenty of off-court drama during Fultz's year-plus in Philadelphia. Brown inserted the 20-year-old into the starting lineup for the first 15 games of this season, during which Fultz averaged 9.0 points on 41.2 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The Sixers were 9-6 with Fultz as a starter.  [nbcsports.com]

Would you rather?

Daniel Tran | Syracuse.com

I have no idea why they're covering this up in Syracuse, but they may be on to something. Of course, the correct answer here is to hang out with both of them at the same time. 

The Philadelphia 76ers have two of the biggest personalities, literally, in the NBA between Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic. Embiid has thrilled Sixers fans with his play, but they love him for his quick wit and willingness to mix things up on social media. Marjanovic has a cult following of his own by promoting a big, friendly giant persona who loves to have fun. Who would rather hang out with?

021519_JoJo-vs-Boban

[syracuse.com]

For what it's worth, I voted for Embiid, and am quite surprised Boban is winning, just given Embiid is the more well-known player.

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