Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was firm in his pregame stance.
Joel Embiid’s day off Monday against the Trail Blazers was planned in advance and unrelated to the right knee soreness he’s experienced early this season, Rivers said.
Unless Andre Drummond was cracking a joke to kick off his postgame media session, he wasn’t on the same page as Rivers.
“He hit me with the okie-doke today,” Drummond said of Embiid after the Sixers’ 113-103 win. “Usually he’ll take a couple plays off in shootaround just to rest, so I didn’t really know what was going on until I got here. And I saw the alert on Twitter. I said, ‘Oh s---, I’m starting today.’ So that’s how I found out. Great, great team win for us.”
Drummond’s start was his first as a Sixer and 595th of his career. He amassed the kind of eye-catching stat line he became known for during his All-Star seasons with the Pistons: 14 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and a block.
Zero turnovers, too, which pleased his coach. Rivers is an ardent advocate for Drummond but doesn’t want him trying to emulate Magic Johnson.
“He’s an excellent passer,” Rivers said. “He likes to gamble with his passes quite a bit, so that’s something that we are talking about.”
Without Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols), Embiid (rest) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons), the Sixers needed Drummond to do a lot. That meant finding open shooters; hedging ball screens involving Damian Lillard; making Jusuf Nurkić sprint up and down the floor; protecting the rim; cleaning up boards for a team lacking above-average rebounders. None of it appeared beyond him. He even made all four of his free-throw attempts, moving to 8 for 9 on the season.
It’s easy to glance over Drummond’s career and characterize him as a traditional big man whose game doesn’t quite fit anymore. While there’s certainly truth within that label — surely a 280-pound center who’s an elite rebounder and rarely attempts three-pointers would’ve been more at home in an earlier era — perhaps it undersells Drummond’s versatility. The 28-year-old is most comfortable shooting around the rim, sure, but he isn’t hopelessly stranded when asked to blitz a screen or pick out open cutters from the top of the key.
He believes his teammates are catching on.
“I think in the past couple weeks, just with these games and the short practices we’ve had, I think guys are more alert now because they know I’m a willing passer,” he said. “I’m going to get the ball to you, so be prepared and be ready to shoot.”
Though in a cheerful postgame mood, Drummond dismissed the notion that one strong start without Embiid says much about him as player.
“I don’t think I have anything to prove,” he said. “Anybody that’s watched me in my career knows what I’m capable of. This is nothing new; it’s something I do on a nightly basis, just in a different role.”
Embiid hopes to play in his most regular-season games ever. Whether or not he checks that box, Drummond should start and be in familiar territory next time Embiid sits.
He might even learn the news from a source other than social media.