By Peter Gleason
Every Sixers fan is familiar with the long and tortured story of Joel Embiid’s recovery from foot surgeries — the first after he was drafted by the team in 2014 and the second last summer.
And the team has made a special effort to lower expectations on the 7-2 center.
But there he was yesterday on the court, draining long-range jumpers.
“I think we all sort of can dream a little bit when you look over here,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “That’s a very, very different player.”
Embiid’s rehab is going along as planned as he recovers from a second surgery on his right foot which sidelined him for the season. The third overall pick from the 2014 draft has yet to play in an NBA game.
“I think everybody sort of sees more of him for a reason,” Brown said. “We think he’s heading in a really, really positive direction, both physically and mentally. We’re going at a pace that we’re all happy with. We understand how crucial it is that we don’t miss a beat and he does, too.”
Following Sixers practice, Embiid worked with coaches at two different baskets going through shots from a range of locations. What stood out was his efficiency shooting away from the rim. He is listed at 250 pounds yet has the ability to make baskets at a distance often seen of smaller players.
“That is very unique to see a 7-foot-2 man have the touch and the form and the release of his wrists,” said Brown. “If you watch the strength of his wrists, that thing comes off easy. That is just really special.”
It remains to be seen how the Sixers would play Embiid with fellow big men Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. The team alraedy is working through combinations with its current players, and adding a big who can hit outside shots to the mix adds another element. Brown said Embiid has not been instructed to focus on his long-range game, but the head coach is open to incorporating it into the system if it becomes a consistent part of his repertoire if/when he returns.
“Trying to pair up these bigs is so challenging, and he is our best shooter out of the three bigs,” said Brown. “We all talk how we have to put people where they can do well, where they can succeed, and if this ends up being something he can do well … then we have to tap into that.”