76ers

Given contract situation, Sixers should make a call soon on finger-wagging, lob-catching Norvel Pelle

Given contract situation, Sixers should make a call soon on finger-wagging, lob-catching Norvel Pelle

Norvel Pelle packed plenty of action, energy, drama and joy into his 12 minutes and 38 seconds of playing time Thursday night in the Sixers’ 109-98 win over the Celtics.

Early in the fourth quarter and late in a second stint during which he’d seemingly expended everything he had to offer, Pelle leaped with Enes Kanter, watched the Celtics center’s dunk attempt thud off the back of the rim and wagged his finger like Dikembe Mutombo.

As he’s shown in his nine NBA games, Pelle enjoys jousting at the rim. He was credited with two blocks Thursday night in addition to six points and four rebounds, but he altered several other shots. 

“Of course,” he told reporters. “Of course. … Blocking shots is like my go-to, as you guys can tell. And that frustration, seeing it in their faces and whatnot, thinking that they got the open lane and got the shot and it's getting thrown into the stands — it's pleasing to me.”

Though Brett Brown experimented with Ben Simmons as a small-ball center in the first half, Pelle was Al Horford’s primary backup Thursday. With Joel Embiid out because of a torn ligament in his left hand, Pelle played over eighth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn.

Even before the news of Embiid’s injury, the Sixers were approaching a key moment with Pelle. As a two-way player, he’s only eligible for 45 days in the NBA between the start of G League training camp and the end of the G League regular season, and he cannot participate in the NBA playoffs. A source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Pelle has under a week of NBA days left. ESPN’s Bobby Marks puts the number at five.

Brown didn’t directly answer the question of whether he’d been swayed to believe that Pelle deserves to receive minutes and be part of the Sixers moving forward — and, of course, not all of that is in his control — but he did have ample praise. 

Look at what he can do. Just zoom into what is his skill set. What is his NBA skill set? And let’s start with here’s a rim protector, and then go to offense and say here’s a roller. Those two things are quite valuable. And he’s quite different to our team. Then you get into OK, who’s going to run the pick-and-roll with him? You’ve got Ben [Simmons] and [Josh Richardson] that are exceptional at doing that. You’ve got Norvel rolling behind that, you can see why we would look at him as, ‘That’s a young prospect that interests us a lot.’ I thought he was excellent tonight.

Relatively speaking, Pelle is not, in fact, “young.” He’s a 26-year-old rookie who had an unconventional route to the NBA that didn’t include college basketball and stopped in what was then known as the D League, Lebanon, Taiwan and Italy. 

While it’s possible he has unrealized potential, can polish his game, reduce his fouls and expand offensively, the present version of Pelle can help an NBA team.

Along with Pelle’s dwindling number of remaining NBA days, one reason the Sixers could be compelled to make a decision on him soon is that Jan. 15 is the final day players can sign two-way contracts. If they don’t give Pelle an NBA deal and also don’t waive him before that date, they would essentially have one two-way player with NBA time left in Marial Shayok.

It's a tricky situation, with the Sixers currently at the maximum of 15 players on the roster — meaning they'd need to create an open spot if they wished to add Pelle — plus their two-ways, Shayok and Pelle. 

Embiid was in New York on Thursday night as he awaited surgery the following day, but his comments about Pelle on Dec. 14 seemed prescient as the Wells Fargo Center crowd rose for a standing ovation after a swaggering, lob-catching, rim-protecting showing.

“I told him if he got the minutes, he would probably lead the league in blocks,” Embiid had said. “He has a chance to become a fan favorite, so he should just keep doing whatever he’s doing.”

Pelle has indeed quickly risen to the ranks of fan favorite, or so it appears. He feels a connection with Philadelphia, too. 

“Definitely, definitely,” he said. “Philly's known for just being hard-nosed and get the job done. Don't cry about it. And I feel like I can dictate that once I'm on the court.”

Like most backup big men, Pelle has flaws and limitations, but he also has skills that transfer well to the NBA, at least judging by the early returns.

And, if one happens to casually flip on a game, it typically won’t take long to know whether Pelle is on the court. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: About Joel Embiid's postgame interview ...

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: About Joel Embiid's postgame interview ...

On this edition of Sixers Talk, Paul Hudrick and Serena Winters discuss Joel Embiid's postgame interview — and new career high — and what the possible plans could be if the Sixers don't have Ben Simmons for a while.

• Jo threw Serena a curveball postgame after a dominant performance (0:40)

• Players who need to step up if Ben Simmons misses significant time (16:05)

• What to expect from the buyout market (29:00)

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Joel Embiid is finding a balance with his duality

Joel Embiid is finding a balance with his duality

A couple weeks ago, Joel Embiid scared the hell out of Sixers fans with his cryptic tweet quoting the Batman villain Two-Face.

It was the same quote used by his friend Jimmy Butler while he was toiling away in Minnesota. In retrospect, the character Embiid was referencing was appropriate.

While Embiid has struggled with his own duality this season, he’s seemed to have found a balance recently as evidenced by his 49-point performance in the Sixers’ 129-112 win Monday (see observations).

I said that I was gonna get back to having fun,” Embiid said. “Having fun comes in different forms. I don't always have to be smiling or laughing all the time. I can have fun just dominating the game. Obviously tonight was just one of those nights where I was having fun like the old days. Just having fun with the crowd. Some nights, I just might want to dominate and stay quiet.

Indeed, Embiid did appear to be having an awful lot of fun out there. Then again, it’s easy to when you’re dominating the way the All-Star center did.

His 49 points were the most scored by a Sixer since Allen Iverson put up 53 against Atlanta on Dec. 23 of 2005. The only other players in franchise history to put up 49 points and 14 rebounds are Hall of Famers, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain and Dolph Schayes. 

While we’ve known that Embiid is capable of nights like this, there haven’t been as many of these types of performances as there have been in the past. The last time Embiid truly took over a game in the fashion he did against the Nets last week and the Hawks Monday was in a big road win in Boston in mid-December.

You might recall that happened after Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal called Embiid’s effort level out. Embiid admitted then that he wasn’t having as much fun this season as he had in the past. Unfortunately for the Sixers and Embiid, the 25-year-old big man still couldn’t find consistency before suffering a torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand.

When Embiid returned after a nine-game absence, he still wasn’t quite right. The splint on his left hand was clearly giving him trouble and he was letting it affect other aspects of his game. Embiid said prior to the matchup against the Clippers before the break that he needed to have a different mindset. He proceeded to play well that night.

Though he wanted to clarify his “best player in the world” comments from after the win over Brooklyn — although he kind of didn’t — the All-Star Game seemed to give him a different level of confidence.

What I said was that All-Star Game, fourth quarter, I'm out there with some of the guys that I consider the best players in the world and I'm out there just dominating,” Embiid said. “So to me, I just felt like that was a chance for me to prove that I deserve being in that conversation of being the best player in the world. 

“But like I said tonight, if I play like that every night … I mean, what more can you say? I just gotta keep on doing it. I know I'm not, but I do believe it because I gotta prove it. I gotta win. My goal is to win a championship. That's how you prove that you are the best.

The whole winning thing may be more difficult for at least the foreseeable future. We’re still awaiting an update on Ben Simmons, who irritated a lower back injury on Saturday night in Milwaukee. Simmons is still being evaluated and the team and his representation are working together to decide a course of action, per a team spokesperson.

With Simmons out and the team sitting in fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers are going to need Embiid to play like this over the last 24 games of the season and beyond.

“He knows it more than I can say it,” Brett Brown said. “We talked a little bit about it. With the news on Ben and him not being here, it’s clear he’s gotta come out and he’s gotta play like he did tonight, for the most part. Nobody’s asking him to get 50 every night, but his mentality is the thing that most impressed me. And we saw the same thing against Brooklyn. We’re all going to point to the numbers and this and that. The bottom line is this: When he comes out with that activity, that energy, that mentality, he makes a statistician work and we will win a lot of games.”

So which Embiid can we expect? Whichever version gives the Sixers the best chance to win.

I think I'm finding that balance of sometimes having fun, smiling, and sometimes just being serious and just doing my job, and I can do my job smiling and I can do my job being serious. I don't know. I don't control it. Sometimes I'm gonna mix it, but at the end of the day, whatever gets us the win, that's all I care about.

Harvey Dent. Two-Face. The Process. JoJo.

After a night like Monday, you can just call him dominant.

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