It will take a while for Joel Embiid to look like the polished star many believe he can be, but the moments of brilliance continue to pop up. Based on what we saw in his second start, a 125-119 loss against the Washington Wizards, he and his teammates have plenty to be excited about this season.
For the second consecutive game, Embiid’s presence was felt on both ends. He forced a travel from Marcin Gortat and drew a foul on the other end within the game’s first minute, a trend that continued throughout his 12 minutes of action. Embiid was constantly in the thick of things, drawing at least five fouls as the Sixers continued to feed him in the post.
Plenty of young players let their heads drop when the shots aren’t falling, but not this one. He was off the mark offensively for most of the half, but Embiid continually challenged Washington on defense, forcing the opponent into tough shots at the rim or offensive resets. Kelly Oubre hacked Embiid on several occasions when JoJo was trying to set up shop in the post, and Embiid got his revenge with this highlight block in the second quarter:
He settled for fadeaway jumpers too easily, but he flat-out bullied Marcin Gortat on a couple occasions en route to a couple of made baskets. Tossing aside an 11-year vet with Gortat’s build is no easy task, and the development of Embiid’s power game will be fun to watch as this season unfolds.
Elsewhere on the team, Dario Saric and Richaun Holmes stood out from their peers. The former was the Sixers’ leading scorer for most of the evening, and his shot continues to look sweet from deep.
Well, except for on plays like this, but at least the bank was open!
In all seriousness, Saric has been the best player on the floor for Philly through two preseason games. His in-game awareness is advanced beyond his years; when he was off-ball, Saric hunted down players to screen or open space to slide into, constantly searching for ways to make life easier on his teammates.
The Sixers have a long way to go before they round into fighting shape, before those type of plays really matter from Saric. But when you continue to add players who do the little things right, the sum of those contributions eventually translates to winning. Hope is no longer a distant prospect for this bunch.
What We Learned
Nerlens Noel’s absence raises more questions
Noel’s unhappiness has been a focal point since training camp opened, and he was notably missing from the bench this evening. Though his absence was reported pre-game, the circumstances are a little dubious.
The Sixers claimed through a team spokesman that Noel informed them of a groin strain at the team’s afternoon shootaround. As beat writer Tom Moore noted, claiming a player informed the team of an injury is out of the ordinary:
Team doesn't typically say a player informed them of an injury. Seems a little curious. https://t.co/g93ic1nk8b— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) October 7, 2016
There may be nothing more to this than a precaution taken by a team going through preseason reps, but worth monitoring given the circumstances.
Richaun Holmes deserves a spot in the rotation
With Noel on the mend and Jahlil Okafor still recovering from ailments of his own, Holmes was the beneficiary of vacated minutes. He took advantage of the opportunity and continued to make his case for a real role once the regular season begins.
It seemed like lip service when Bryan Colangelo placed Holmes alongside the big trio on the opening day of training camp, but he’s quickly showing he earned that respect. Holmes is building off a strong run of play in Vegas Summer League and can’t be ignored in the front-court picture.
Even if he’s rough around edges — his hyperactivity can be a double-edged sword — he has justified minutes and development time with his performance. His presence was felt whether he was playing with end-of-bench players or members of the starting unit. Brett Brown has to find a way to get him involved, because his hands, athleticism and finishing ability make him an intriguing talent.
Dario Saric is going to make noise this season
This might look like hyperbole later, but if his first two games are any indication, Saric is going to be a threat to win the Rookie of the Year award.
And why not? This isn’t a particularly strong freshman class, and Saric has a blend of skills, instinct and maturity that few of his peers can match. Ben Simmons’ absence will allow Saric to step into a bigger role right away, and a steady dose of made threes alongside playmaking at the four will be hard to ignore for voters.
Saric is doing a bit of everything so far. Two years felt like an eternity at times, but the wait will have been well worth it if he keeps up at this pace.