Two years, three months and eight days ago today, the Sixers acquired the draft rights to Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. Today, those two players make their NBA debuts, featuring in the starting lineup for tonight’s preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Fans in the Philadelphia area can catch the game on Comcast Sportsnet at 7:00 sharp.
The wait has been excruciating. Embiid’s career hung in the balance on more than one occasion, with questions surrounding both his health and maturity looming in the background. Some of those issues appear to be behind the giant from Cameroon; his health is still a question mark moving forward, but his professional focus has been a point of praise from the organization all offseason.
Though some in Philadelphia spoke of him like a mythological figure, Saric’s progress overseas served as a pleasant distraction from losing over the last few years. Finally, they get to see him in a Sixers uniform and performing against NBA competition.
Tonight’s game against the Celtics is a new beginning for both players, but it’s also a rebirth for the franchise. We’re no longer waiting on the impact players from that all-important draft — they’re front and center for the team’s opening stanza. It feels a bit like Christmas Day, with the fans who held out hope these last two seasons finally getting a glimpse at the reward.
Don’t expect greatness out of the gate. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction, and Saric has openly admitted he’s about “70 percent” ready for NBA action. Both need reps upon reps to feel comfortable and confident against this caliber of talent, and those will only come with time.
Even with those qualifiers, their opening preseason game at UMass will serve as a nice “Welcome to the league!” test served up by a division foe.
The Boston Celtics won’t make for an easy introduction to the league. They have a gaggle of swarming perimeter defenders who will make life miserable for the Sixers, particularly their young players adjusting to the speed of the game. They claimed the NBA’s second biggest offseason addition in Al Horford, a two-way pivot who will challenge the Sixers young bigs on both ends. It’s a dangerous unit to deal with, particularly for a young group looking to find their way.
Embiid and Saric’s big debut is bittersweet with Ben Simmons and Jahlil Okafor on the shelf. The Sixers are a mish-mash of parts in need of sorting, and every minute the coaching staff can spend tinkering works toward a long-term solution. Okafor will presumably reenter the fray soon enough, but the extended absence of this year’s No. 1 pick will delay the chemistry-building the team needs.
Buried beneath the glitzy headliners, several Sixers will hope to get off the dreaded roster bubble. Several members of last year’s team are fighting to stay employed; Nik Stauskas needs his long-lost stroke to reappear, while T.J. McConnell will hope to prove the Sixers sudden influx of guards shouldn’t leave him on the outside looking in.
This is the moment many of you have been waiting for. Bask in the glow of theoretical hope one last time — shit’s getting real from here on out.
Tip time: 7:00 p.m. (EST)