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October 07, 2016

While Embiid works through growing pains, Saric fitting into Sixers offense seamlessly

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On three of the Sixers’ first four offensive possessions Thursday night, matched up against Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat in the post, Joel Embiid touched the ball in the halfcourt offense.

All three times, he fired up a quick shot in the Polish Hammer’s grill. All three times, he missed the mark badly. He didn’t even draw iron twice. If you’ve followed Embiid on social media the past few years, it should come as little surprise that he isn’t bashful on the court, either.

“Offensively, I got to work on a lot of stuff,” he said after the game.

No arguments there, as Tuesday’s opener at UMass against the Boston Celtics more or less started similarly for the 7’2” rookie center.

“Excitement” is the word that Brett Brown and the man himself have used to describe Embiid’s shaky moments, and that is an entirely plausible explanation. Embiid wants to play more than 12 minutes per game, but if that is all the doctors will allow, it makes sense that he wants to get his shots up.

Maybe not all of the shots, though. At the risk of sounding too hot-takey or being accused of lacking context altogether after only 25 minutes on the floor, Embiid has been the definition of a black hole in his first two games. Once the ball goes into him on the block, it hasn’t come back out.

To his credit, “The Process” understands this.

“I had the ball in my hands and I wasn’t passing this time,” Embiid said. “So I got to make sure next time around I share the ball. I was a little bit too selfish today.”

Embiid received the loudest ovation in pre-game introductions, but he wasn’t the only 2014 first-round pick making his Wells Fargo Center debut. Dario Saric, who battled a sore back in practice this week, didn’t show any ill effects, finishing 5-7 from the field for 14 points to go along with four rebounds.

Saric isn’t an “international mystery man” anymore, nor was he ever really. He’s a big, skilled stretch four that can make plays at the NBA level (which he always has been, it’s just now that he’s suiting up for the Sixers). And as it turns out, playing against grown men in the Euroleague for two years helps ease the transition to the NBA game.

Who’da thunk it?

“I think that Dario’s versatility and his toughness and how he can make plays continues to impress,” Brett Brown said. “I thought in his limited minutes, he was very good tonight.”

Saric has provided a nice contrast to his frontcourt partner in the first two games. Where Embiid looks shaky in terms of fitting into the Sixers offense, Saric has settled into the Swiss Army knife role seamlessly.

After the strong start to his NBA career, Saric warned after the game that there will be ups and downs.

“I don’t know how to explain it, from my eye, these couple weeks and still now was a little bit faster than what I played in Europe,” Saric said. “Of course I need the time to catch that [speed]. But you know, first two games I think I did well. That doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent here yet.”

The good news for Saric is that less is expected of him than Embiid. After the game, Brown labeled both the Sixers’ two prized additions “for real,” but three hours before, he called Embiid “the focal point, both offensively and defensively.”

Again, no arguments there. Saric will be a piece, perhaps a very good one, but Embiid represents the Sixers’ best chance at “the guy.”

“The people and the pieces around it are going to still follow suit with the structure that we're trying to build both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, around Joel,” Brown said.

Embiid is going to have a physical advantage over pretty much every center that he matches up against. Gortat is not a small man at 6’11”, and it was apparent that Embiid had a few inches on him. The 22-year-old has already proven to be an intriguing defensive presence, altering a few of Gortat’s shots in addition to thwarting this Kelly Oubre drive:

Embiid’s size can also work against him offensively, as he can get his shot off whenever he wants. Specifically, he’s too talented to settle for the first look that presents itself. After the first three missed shots, Embiid went to the power game and backed Gortat down for a couple of buckets, not an easy task.

For now, the low post is what his coach wants him to focus on.

“I feel like the judgment, my view of when I really think ‘Here he is,’ it’s going to be volume of free throws,” Brown said. “How many times does he get to the line? How many times does he get to the rim? How many times does he get to the paint? And so we’re seeing a lot of jump shots right now, he’s trying to gather his feet, he’s a little bit off-balance.”

“I had the ball in my hands and I wasn’t passing this time. So I got to make sure next time around I share the ball. I was a little bit too selfish today.”

Embiid believes that he’ll settle down, but it might take some time. His message every time he conducts an interview? Trust the process.

“I haven’t played in two years or more so it’s going to take a little bit of time,” Embiid said. “As a team we got to figure out a lot of stuff. Me, myself, I got to watch a lot of tape and learn how people guard me, what to do on offense, get the ball moving.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann