If Joel Embiid stays healthy, there is no single way in which he won't make the Sixers better. You don't need to watch much of the team's preseason action for this to become blindingly obvious: The team's spacing, ball-moving, transition game, half-court defense, and rebounding will all rise with him on the court and ebb with him off it. He'll make them more versatile, more coherent, more physical, faster, tougher, smarter. They'll get in the penalty within the first six minutes; they'll demoralize guards from driving anywhere near the basket just as quickly. They'll excite, they'll tantalize, they'll fluster. They'll compete.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, he will become the most popular player on the Sixers since Iverson. I know, I know: More popular than Willie Green?? MORE POPULAR THAN SPENCER HAWES??? The competition is so stiff that it's possible that Joel has already held this title since the first time he tried to slide into Kim Kardashian's DMs.
But he could also become the most popular Sixer since Erving. He'll never be as culturally galvanizing as AI -- maybe no player ever will again -- but he will be so well-liked, in ways unseen by Sixers fans on or off the court. His game will be so well-rounded that talk radio will have to enter the But Does He Want It Bad Enough phase years ahead of schedule merely to have something to debate; his media presence will be so charmingly aloof that media will have to pretend Dwight Howard used to be funny merely so they can fudge a foreboding precedent to presage his fall from approval. #21 jerseys will flood the aisles at the not-Wells Fargo Center. Meek Mill will shout him out in freestyle. My metalhead brother will know who he is.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, the Sixers will win 20 games this year. They might not win 25, they definitely won't win 27.5, but they'll win 20. He'll give the Sixers the backbone on both sides of the ball that they've lacked forever, he'll remind you why the position is called "center." His teammates will benefit from his gravity, and if they don't, their subparness just won't matter as much as it would otherwise. He'll make Brett Brown's life infinitely easier, at least when he's not making it exponentially more difficult. He'll swat away double-digit losing streaks. He'll power the Sixers through the second halfs of back-to-backs. He'll tackle Emmanuel Mudiay at half-court.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, he will become the darling of the NBA Internet. He'll pole-vault past DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James, Evil Kevin Durant, and yes even Evan Turner, and settle in at a comfortable No. 3 in the Basketball Twitter Power Rankings, behind only Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. He will trend for his quotes, for his workout videos, for his quotes about his workout videos, for dunking on fools, for getting dunked on by fools, for unintentionally starting shit and for intentionally ending shit. He'll be on "Shaqtin' a Fool" often enough to get I Know That Feel Bro sympathy texts from JaVale McGee. He'll get named to the Dunk Contest but insist on being in the Three-Point Contest instead. He'll have Matt Cord introduce him as Joel "#LeaguePassAlert" Embiid before games .
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, he will trot to the Rookie of the Year award and he will tap-dance over the goal-line. Bovada currently has him at +500 to win, which means they must have him at around -499 to get hurt again -- which, fair enough. But make no mistake: A full-strength Joel Embiid is the best rookie in this class, and it is not close. The only guy who had a semi-plausible argument to at least be in the discussion with JoJo will be cheering him on from the sideline for at least the first few months of the season, and even still, Embiid's strongest (not that strong) competition might end up coming from his own frontcourt partner.
Beyond that, all other contenders may as well be Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy nominees not named Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Kris Dunn? Won't get the minutes. Brandon Ingram? Doesn't have the body yet. Buddy Hield? Right, because college-star upperclassman wings with mediocre athleticism always have such seamless NBA transitions. Some other jobber unexpectedly thrust into major playing time who puts up serious counting numbers while Joel is held to 25-30 minutes a night? Fine, but the advanced / per 36 stats will be unequivocal in favoring our guy, and all anyone will have to do is see Embiid play for a quarter to tell that he's already placed out of this rookie class like it was high school AP Chemistry. NBA award voters may be silly, but they're not anarchists.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, all other Sixers-related considerations will fall by the wayside. Noel or Okafor? Trade 'em both. Who's our starting point guard? Grab some dude from the stands who'll take the Hinkie Special and can dribble the ball past half-court, we'll figure out the rest from there. When's Ben Simmons coming back? Actually, see you when we see you, good buddy -- let us know how thew new season of Nashville is. Do the Colangelos really know what they're doing? Hell, do any of us really know what we're doing in this crazy world? None of it will matter, and we'll forget that it was ever supposed to. Embiid Uber Alles.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, he will do things that we've never seen a Sixer do before. He'll make every game a must-watch, because there's no way you could live with yourself if you missed his first triple-double. Or his first game with 20 rebounds at the half. Or the first time he makes four threes in a row. Or when he debuts his soon-to-be-trademark victory shimmy. Or the beginning of his feud with Shaq, where the TNT announcer makes some typically petty pre-game comments about him not being a true post player, Embiid Dream-Shakes-Rattles-and-Rolls his way to 40 and 15, and then ganks the Sixers' PA mic to bellow to the ecstatic crowd: "CAAAAAAN YOUUUUUUUUU DIIIIIIG IIIIIIIIT??????" Call him The Big Unpredictable.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, he will soon enter the discussion of the best young big men in the game, and Sixers fans will be furious about it not happening sooner. He will draw inevitable comparisons to Anthony Davis and Karl Anthony-Towns, a debate that Sixers fans and non-Sixers fans will agree is ridiculous, for opposing reasons. He will be ranked at No. 11 in Bill Simmons' annual Trade Value column, and Sixers fans will incinerate his Twitter mentions with accusations of Celtics homerism for not putting JoJo in the top ten. Every day, we will cherry-pick a new stat to demonstrate how Embiid is the next Tim Duncan, the next Wilt Chamberlain, the next Jack Bauer. And even when we're wrong, we'll know we're right.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, the growing pains will still be considerable. He'll show up late to practice. He'll subtweet a teammate. He'll get frustrated at Brett Brown during a timeout. He'll step out of bounds on the court, and then he'll really step out of bounds with the refs. He'll make a gorgeous spin move into the lane and then blow the easy bunny. He'll keep just-missing wide open threes until he makes one, by which point the game will long have been lost. He'll dive into the stands for a loose ball and miss the next five games with a busted nose. And all of it will make you say the same thing: Man, just wait till a few years from now.
And that will be the most exciting part. As incredible as he'll be this season, you'll know it's only the shredded cheddar on top of the seven-layer nacho dip, and things are still going to get so much creamier as he develops his game, acclimates to life in the NBA, and generally learns how to be an adult human person. And you'll smile deeply to yourself as you contemplate the future:He's so f--king good, and he's not really even good yet.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy, it will finally be the end of Trusting the Process, because we will inarguably have moved on to the Results stage. The blind will have been given sight, the heathens will have found religion, Doug Collins and Larry Brown will have to agree that the Michael Carter-Williams trade maybe wasn't such a disaster in the grand scheme of things after all. Sam Hinkie will be the first GM to ever have his number retired by a pro basketball team, and he'll finally be able to leap to his next NBA job. Vlade Divac will be low-key pleased with the Sixers' progress, even though he won't be quite sure why.
The season will be an qualified success no matter how many games we win, no matter what pick we get in the lottery, whether or not we finally get that goddamn Lakers first-rounder this year. We'll be fun. We'll be exciting. We'll be relevant. We'll get bandwagon fans! It'll get less depressing as the season goes on, not more. It'll be as good as Pen Pineapple Apple Pen. It'll make everything that we've gone through the last three years worth it.
If Joel Embiid stays healthy.