Joel Embiid’s opening effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder was a doozy, and he’ll face another stiff test in his second professional game. Dwight Howard will be manning the pivot for the Atlanta Hawks, where he’ll force Embiid to deal with his strength and athleticism on the low block.
Playing your first two games against Steven Adams and Howard is a challenge for a vet, let alone a rookie, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Embiid won’t get to rest on his laurels and grow accustomed to matchups with frailer centers out of the gate. By the time the Sixers hit a friendlier chunk of the schedule -- at least in terms of front-court composition — the young center will already be battle-tested.
With the first-game jitters behind him, Embiid will hope to turn in a better shooting performance against Atlanta. Shot selection hasn’t been too much of a problem for Embiid outside of a few exceptions in the preseason, and his 6-16 effort from the field against OKC will likely be improved upon.
Even if he’s missing shots, he’s proven he can overcome sputtering from the field by earning (and knocking down) free throws. Having a center who can potentially combine his caliber of touch with elite free-throw rate for the position would go a long way toward bringing Philadelphia’s offense up to par.
Perhaps the more compelling story is how Embiid’s teammates begin to coalesce around him. Newcomers like Sergio Rodriguez and frustrating holdovers like Nik Stauskas showed flashes of what they might add to the mix this season. Rodriguez in particular was a breath of fresh air, showing obvious chemistry in the pick-and-roll with Richaun Holmes.
What Philadelphia needs is for Rodriguez to build that sort of bond with Embiid, and the team needs to get their big man on the move more as a general principle. Talented as he is, asking Embiid to set up on the block and create for himself over and over again should not be the extent of his offense. When Ben Simmons returns and features as the primary ball-handler, it would be nice for his lob target and release valve to already have extensive reps in the pick-and-roll.
Also worth watching in this one — Jahlil Okafor’s play against Atlanta’s backups. Behind Howard and Paul Millsap, the Hawks will likely turn to fourth-year center Mike Muscala off the bench. Okafor should eat him alive, and unlike Enes Kanter on Wednesday night Muscala is a poor rebounder unlikely to hurt Big Jah’s weakness on the glass. This is tailor-made for Okafor, and the team should feed him early and often if he’s matched up with Muscala.
This one’s an afternoon special from the Center, thanks to an arena doubleheader with the Flyers. As you begin to escape the clutches of Saturday’s hangover, have a spicy Bloody Mary and settle in for some Sixers basketball.
Time: 12:30 EST
TV: Comcast Sportsnet