CLEVELAND -- “The Process” continues to make progress.
Joel Embiid had his most productive outing of the preseason in the Sixers’ 108-105 loss Saturday night in Cleveland, scoring 12 points, grabbing four rebounds and blocking a shot in a little over 13 minutes of floor time, all in the first half (see Instant Replay).
Sixers fans waited over two years to see the No. 3 pick from the 2014 draft take the floor, and he’s been on a minutes restriction through the first three preseason games. But the 7-foot-2 center is starting to show why he was such a coveted prospect coming out of Kansas, and why the Sixers have been so patient with his development.
Coach Brett Brown has said he wants Embiid to be the “focal point” of the offense, and Embiid certainly was that against the defending champions, putting up 10 shots and earning two trips to the line in a determined effort to be a scoring force.
Matched up against Cavaliers center Chris Andersen, Embiid was active early on, shooting or drawing a foul on six of the Sixers’ first eight possessions, and netting their first six points
“I felt more comfortable tonight,” Embiid said. “I wasn’t stressed. I was free today. I just played my game.”
Embiid scored on his first touch, an emphatic one-handed jam off an interior pass from fellow rookie Dario Saric. After missing a 10-foot turnaround jumper on his next touch, Embiid challenged Andersen deeper in the post, drew a foul and made both free throws.
On each of the Sixers next three trips, Embiid was a presence in the paint. He had a layup blocked and missed an open dunk when he and T.J. McConnell were out of synch on an alley-oop attempt, but cut to the hoop for another layup set up by Saric before checking out of the game after 4:23 of action.
“In general, you can see that he understands that he wants to get to the rim, that he has an advantage as post player,” Brown said. “We need to do a better job of always spacing around him, but I thought his mentality was excellent.”
Embiid wanted to be aggressive at the outset, both because that’s what the Sixers are asking of him, and because of who the opponent was.
“I’m still thinking about how I should have been the No. 1 pick and they didn’t pick me, so that had something to do with it,” he said.
Embiid returned at the start of the second quarter and immediately earned a pair of free throws, making one.
“I think the quantity of free throws will be an indication of how physical and how and deep his catches are,” Brown said.
A few plays later, Embiid caught the ball at the top of the key and launched a straightaway 26-footer through the net. During warmups, Embiid swished three in a row from that spot, and Brown said he’s shown the ability to make threes in practice.
“He can shoot them. I don’t know if I’d say encouraging, but if it’s there, we don’t discourage it,” Brown said. “It comes off his hand well. He looks fluid in his shot. And you can see it in his free throws. He shoots very well for a man his size.”
Embiid’s second quarter stint also included a pair of offensive fouls and a play in which he fell down making a move toward the basket. He scored on a rebound of his own missed jumper, and had a chance for another putback but brought the ball low below his waist after pump faking, allowing Kyrie Irving to block the shot.
Through three preseason games, Embiid has now played 38 minutes. He’s scored 23 points on 8 of 22 field goal shooting and 6 of 8 free throws. He’s also tallied 11 rebounds and blocked four shots, while turning the ball over six times and getting called for seven fouls.
“He’s a big part of our team,” point guard Sergio Rodriguez said. “If we get him healthy and he develops the way he should, he’s an amazing player. He will be huge for us. He needs to know how important he is for us. It will take time. He’s been out for so long, but he will be very good.”