Joel Embiid’s first professional game hit all the right notes. His triumphant debut put all his skills on display, flashing touch and brutality to go along with Yeti-like size. Now he’s tasked with doing that for a second straight game, when the Sixers tip off against the Washington Wizards at 7:00 tonight.
Seeing Embiid take the court without crumbling to dust would have been enough for many fans. Aside from a scary slip halfway through the second quarter, he looked prepared as possible for the rigors of NBA life.
Embiid’s bundle of talent is so vast that just being out there allows him to impact the game. Against Boston on Tuesday, there were several plays where his imposing figure steered drivers away from the rim and forced resets of their offense. On the other end, the Sixers fed him over and over again, content to run the offense through the post and get their prodigy as many touches as possible.
Embiid wasn’t the only debutant to stand out on Tuesday. Dario Saric was arguably the best player on the floor for Philadelphia, and he continues his quest to silence doubters at The Center tonight.
Saric’s proficient night from downtown was wonderful to see. His ability to stretch the floor — or at least be considered a credible threat — has massive implications for what sort of role he can play on this Sixers team. If he ends up being an above-average shooter from deep, Brett Brown will be able to play with lots of funky lineups involving Saric and Ben Simmons when the latter returns from injury.
Even when he wasn’t hitting shots, Saric made his presence felt. There’s a lot of talk about what the veteran signings will do to raise the team’s level, but Saric is a seasoned professional in a way many of his young teammates are not. Against Boston, he set hard screens, crashed the glass and did the little things peers his age tend to gloss over. Saric may not have the superstar-level potential of Embiid or Simmons, but he’s the type of player conducive to winning basketball whether he’s playing in Turkey or Toronto.
The Wizards will throw some big, tough players at the Sixers young frontcourt. Marcin Gortat is the guy you know and hate, and offseason signing Ian Mahinmi will ensure Embiid gets challenged against both starters and backups during his 12 allotted minutes.
For the first time, Embiid and Saric will get to play in front of a Philadelphia crowd. Expect the locals to be a little more jazzed up than usual about a preseason game.
Who’s not playing?
The Sixers are expected to be without Jerryd Bayless, Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and Cat Barber for tonight’s game. Okafor’s absence gets a little more worrying the longer he’s on the bench, so let’s hope it’s just the team taking their typical ultra-cautious approach.
The bad guys might be without star guard John Wall, who is still in the process of getting back to 100 percent after surgery in the offseason. Marcus Thornton and the aforementioned Mahinmi are also dealing with minor knocks, so their availability is currently up in the air.
Time: 7:00 pm EST
TV: Comcast Sportsnet, NBATV