The Process Isn't Over.....Yet
Writer: Caleb Akpan
For years in Philadelphia, basketball fans were told to “trust the process”. Their team was awful and regularly accused of losing games on purpose. This deliberate tanking led to GM Sam Hinkie being fired and replaced near the end of last season, and with Philly still not improving. The team was consistently the worst in the league, reaching near all-time lows, and the draft picks they were getting due to their terrible records couldn’t stay healthy. One of these draft picks was Kansas product Joel Embiid. Drafted third in 2014, Embiid had received comparisons to legend Hakeem Olajuwon prior to the draft, but he failed to get on the court for even a second in his first two seasons to try and prove them.
Finally able to heal a foot injury after two years, Embiid played in the NBA for the first time in 2016-2017 and immediately started to live up to the hype. The seven-foot Cameroonian averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game in 31 appearances before his year was again cut short due to a left knee injury. Embiid was able to heal to start the 2017-2018 campaign healthy, and he seems to have had enough time to work on his game as well. Now known as The Process across the league, Embiid may already be nearing completion as he is dominating competition, and after having the best game of his career against the Lakers on Wednesday, there’s no telling where the ceiling is for him or Philadelphia's future.
A monster line of 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 7 assists summed up the night for Embiid in Hollywood, where he dominated and made a near quadruple-double look like nothing. The points and blocks were career highs and the statline as a whole had never been seen in NBA history (blocks became a recorded stat in ‘83-’84). All-time greats like Shaquille O'Neal and the previously mentioned Hakeem Olajuwon were never able to reach these numbers, so how do their career stats stack up to what Embiid is doing this year? Looking at per 36 minute numbers, Embiid’s career stats (28.7 PPG, 12 RPG, 3.1 BPG) top even the best years O'Neal or Olajuwon ever saw, and they were winning MVPs and championships at their peaks. Embiid’s potential along with Ben Simmons could see the same kinds of things coming Philly’s way, but it’s probably best that people don’t get too excited for the 76ers just yet.
For one, Embiid’s production has been limited to say the least. From one point of view, it’s great that Embiid has been able to dominate the game in restricted minutes; just now topping 30 minutes in a game for the first time in his career, but it’s also possible he won’t be able to be as consistent when his workload increases. There’s also no guarantee he stays healthy, really it seems correct to assume Embiid will miss time at some point with his injury history. Any time he’s off the floor, Philadelphia's production drops and they won’t be able to compete for a playoff spot if he’s gone most of the time, even with rookie Ben Simmons taking the league by storm. Philly needs both of them and more before they can truly compete.
Then there’s the fact that his competition includes LeBron James and the Warriors as a whole, among others. The Sixers are clearly talented, but their roster has a ton to learn as the fifth youngest in the league. They’ll probably need a couple of years of playoff experience before they can really start taking care of their opponents when it matters most. The good news is they seem on track to finally break their playoff drought this season and get their feet wet, hopefully speeding up the time it takes to truly contend for a championship.
It’s a bit easier for fans to trust the process now that signs of progress are showing, but it’s not over just yet. They’ve found their franchise centerpiece in Joel Embiid and the perfect player to match him up with in Ben Simmons. J.J. Redick and Robert Covington providing shooting and defense, and there’s still time for them to figure out their point guard situation, hopefully with Markelle Fultz getting healthy. If all things continue to go well, Philly will be back as a top NBA franchise sooner than later, especially if Joel Embiid continues to dominate. If he keeps up these performances and continues to grow with the Sixer’ young core, The Process will soon be over.