The NBA released the first fan voting returns for the 2017 All-Star Game and former Kansas center Joel Embiid is on the cusp of breaking into the top three spots among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.
The Philadelphia rookie received 221,984 votes at the first checkpoint, garnering more fan support than established East stars such as New York’s Carmelo Anthony (189,817) and Indiana’s Paul George (138,332) among frontcourt candidates.
The league splits players into two groups — guards and frontcourt players — for voting purposes, and only three East players lead Embiid so far: Cleveland superstar LeBron James (595, 288), Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (500,663) and the Cavaliers’ top big man, Kevin Love (250,347).
Through 23 games, Embiid is averaging 19.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for Philadelphia (9-24), despite playing only 25.0 minutes a game up to this point. Still, the 22-year-old big man from Cameroon has become an instant fan favorite thanks to not only his mind-boggling skill set for a 7-foot-2 player, but also his amusing persona, often on display on social media platforms.
NBA fans can submit one All-Star ballot each day during the voting period, through NBA.com, the NBA App, Twitter, Facebook and Google Search. All current NBA players are available for selection.
For the first time in NBA All-Star Game history, this season players and media will have a say in the starters, too — not just the fans. All current players and a media panel each carry 25 percent of the weight in the voting process, while fan votes count for 50 percent. According to the NBA, player and media voting will begin next week, with each participant completing one full ballot featuring two guards and three frontcourt players from both conferences.
After all the votes come in, players will be ranked in each conference by position (guard and frontcourt) within each of the three voting groups – fans, players and media. Each player’s score will be calculated by averaging his weighted rank from each voting group.
The five players (two guards and three frontcourt players) with the best score in each conference will be named All-Star starters. Fan voting will serve as the tiebreaker for players in a position group with the same score.
The next fan voting update comes Jan. 12. Voting for fans, players and media concludes Monday, Jan. 16 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The East and West All-Star reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, will be announced the following week, on Jan. 26.
The 2017 All-Star Game will be played in New Orleans, on Feb. 19.
NBA ALL-STAR FAN VOTING
LeBron James (CLE) 595,288
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 500,663
Kevin Love (CLE) 250,347
Joel Embiid (PHI) 221,984
Carmelo Anthony (NY) 189,817
Jimmy Butler (CHI) 189,066
Kristaps Porzingis (NY) 184,166
Paul George (IND) 138,332
Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 72,628
Jabari Parker (MIL) 64,141
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 543,030
Dwyane Wade (CHI) 278,052
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 253,340
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 193,297
Derrick Rose (NY) 129,924
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 128,940
John Wall (WAS) 87,360
Jeremy Lin (BKN) 59,562
Kemba Walker (CHA) 52,122
Avery Bradley (BOS) 32,822
Kevin Durant (GS) 541,209
Zaza Pachulia (GS) 439,675
Kawhi Leonard (SA) 341,240
Anthony Davis (NO) 318,144
Draymond Green (GS) 236,315
DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) 202,317
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 125,278
LaMarcus Aldridge (SA) 101,724
Blake Griffin (LAC) 100,524
Marc Gasol (MEM) 97,370
Stephen Curry (GS) 523,597
James Harden (HOU) 519,446
Russell Westbrook (OKC) 501,652
Klay Thompson (GS) 293,054
Chris Paul (LAC) 173,830
Damian Lillard (POR) 117,857
Eric Gordon (HOU) 76,609
Manu Ginobili (SA) 65,832
Andre Iguodala (GS) 64,247
Zach LaVine (MIN) 53,642
Kelly Oubre Jr. doesn’t need any fans in the Dallas area, and apparently on his recent road trip with the Washington Wizards to the metroplex Oubre actually created some haters.
Oubre interrupted a noon pickup game at a YMCA, enraging the locals who had taken time out of their day to get a run in. One bystander peeved to see an NBA player getting in the way of some scheduled hoopage happened to be a writer named Tim Rogers, who detailed the encounter in a blog post for DMagazine.com.
According to the eyewitness, Oubre shot (with a trainer/rebounder in tow) at one end of an open full court while a group of 10 other men — and even some onlookers — began shouting at him to get out of the way so they could start their game.
Here’s a pretty amazing excerpt from D Magazine:
Someone went to get management to resolve the situation. We all waited on our end of the court, cursing Kelly Oubre. Management came and went. Kelly Oubre kept shooting.
We determined that Kelly Oubre would get the hell out of the way if we just started our game. And that we did. I was on defense and grabbed the first rebound, took the ball up the court, running the wing, passed it to my left as we crossed mid court. Now we had 10 guys running toward Kelly Oubre and his trainer, and what does Kelly Oubre do? He keeps shooting. Doesn’t budge.
As you might imagine, the game ground to a halt. Ten guys milling about, cursing.
If you’ve ever played pickup basketball, this all sounds infuriating. The writer did add, though, that Oubre was “quite polite” in spite of the court full of people hating his guts. And the former Kansas player and his trainer stopped at the front desk to apologize after they left.
The incident, though, generated enough buzz — at least among those who follow the Washington Wizards — that Oubre was asked to address it following his team’s 113-105 loss at Dallas Tuesday night.
The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner reported the 21-year-old backup small forward went to the downtown YMCA in Dallas with his trainer, Drew Hanlen, who had set up the session and was given permission by a manager to occupy one basket at the gymnasium.
Reporters asked Oubre if the situation and the following attention that came with it surprised him.
“Nah, it’s just a funny story for me,” Oubre told The Post. “But we’re always working, no matter where it is. No matter what the situation is, we’re going to find somewhere to work out even if people are trying to chew our heads off at the YMCA for interrupting their game. It’s like 40-year-old men but I respect it, though. We’re trying to get better, too, as well as they are. I’m happy that [Hanlen] came down to Dallas.”
Oubre scored eight points off 3-for-5 shooting (2-for-4 on 3-pointers) that night against the Mavericks, and chipped in three rebounds and two assists for Washington, which fell to 16-18 on the season.
On the year, while appearing in 32 games, the 21-year-old is averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.8 minutes. Oubre is shooting 41.3% from the floor during his second season and has connected on just 20 of 71 3-pointers (28.2%).
This year, Oubre has produced seven double-digit scoring outings, the last coming Dec. 14, when he had 15 points in 40 minutes versus Charlotte — a game that happened to be his only start to date under first-year Wizards coach Scott Brooks.
Athletes certainly have done far worse things to turn off fans, so perhaps it’s appropriate the episode didn’t seem to faze Oubre. He obviously has plenty to work on if he wants to make his NBA career last. Evidently if he has to incense a gym full of strangers to make that happen it’s fine with him.
Former Kansas post players Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson aren’t the type of big men who can take over an NBA game with their offensive abilities. Still, every team needs post players willing and able to do the far-less-glamorous dirty work.
In fact, they both play their bit parts well enough that first-year Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton decided to utilize a two-headed hustle monster of Black and Robinson against Toronto on Sunday. While the combination of backup bigs weren’t enough for L.A. to defeat one of the league’s better teams, their coach — in need of some help in the frontcourt with Larry Nance Jr. out until the end of the month — came away pleased with the experiment.
“They brought us an energy and toughness that we lack a lot of the time on the defensive end,” Walton said Monday, as detailed on the Lakers’ website. “So it was nice to have them out there fighting and battling and watching the other team get mad at each other for not matching that level of intensity.”
In 17 minutes off the bench against the Raptors, Robinson, who has seen his playing time increase in Nance’s absence, scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
Black, while playing his first prolonged stretch in nearly a month after suffering an ankle injury, added 9 points and 9 boards in 14 minutes for the Lakers.
“It’s kind of similar to what me and Larry Nance did,” Black said on Lakers.com. “Larry Nance got a lot of highlight dunks and tip dunks, because guys are trying to box me out, and vice versa. … T-Rob’s super-tenacious on the boards, so it works out.”
The duo combined for 10 offensive rebounds in the loss to Toronto, and Walton told reporters he anticipates going to them again in the Lakers’ next game, Tuesday night against Memphis.
As many who watched Black and Robinson at Kansas will recall, they have similar personas when they step foot on the court.
“(Black) goes hard like I do every possession,” said Robinson, who is averaging 8.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, while shooting 71.4% from the field in just 17.8 minutes, during the past five games. “He gives me the comfortability of knowing that I got somebody that’s gonna go hard with me playing out there.”
As Robinson alluded to, the two spent some time manning the frontcourt simultaneously versus Toronto. It only lasted five minutes, as detailed at SilverScreenAndRoll.com, but the two seemed to feed off each other.
“We’re both Jayhawks ... and we’re the best in the world,” Robinson said. “We both play with high energy, and so I think that was effective, especially in the first half when we first did it.”
Walton said the Lakers wanted to see what a bench unit with two traditional bigs would look like, instead of using a stretch-4. Exactly how long L.A. (12-25) sticks with the Kansas tandem remains to be seen. But Black and Robinson like the idea of teaming up for more grunt work as long as it remains part of the game plan.
“We have a connection because we come from the same university. Honestly, it’s pretty cool playing with him, to be real with you,” Black said. “I watched him play at Kansas and I went there right after him, so now playing together and being out there on the floor with him, it felt good.”
Mere months ago, the name Joel Embiid served as a punchline for some in NBA circles — what with the Philadelphia center unable to play a single game in his first two years with the franchise, due to serious foot issues.
Now, 21 games into his official rookie season with the Sixers, Embiid has become a sensation. And within the NBA Twitterverse and social media realms that once mocked him, the former Kansas big man has witnessed a surge in the opposite direction among fans, who are rallying to vote him into the 2017 all-star game.
"The fans have been [great] ... and I love it," Embiid told The Inquirer Monday, just one day after the league opened fan voting. "Coming in, I thought I was just going to come in and not play a lot, and just get my feet wet.”
Instead, the charismatic and highly skilled 7-foot-2 pivot quickly turned into not only a fan favorite, but also the face of a rebuilding franchise. The 76ers have yet to pull their minutes restriction (currently around 28 a game, with no back-to-back outings and some games off at the team’s discretion) on their 22-year-old investment with a history of getting hurt. Still, when Embiid gets to play, hardly a game passes without him stunning fans and opponents alike.
Monday night in Sacramento, while squaring off with arguably the best center in the NBA, DeMarcus Cousins, Embiid posted 25 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals — with an albeit awful total of 8 turnovers — in 29 minutes.
While seventh-year veteran “Boogie” Cousins got the best of the matchup, with 30 points, 7 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks and a 102-100 Kings victory, the typically cantankerous big man left the floor respecting Embiid and complimenting his game.
“I like that kid a lot. I don’t give a lot of people props, but I like that kid a lot, man,” Cousins said. “I think he got a great chance at being the best big in this league — after I retire.”
Likewise, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger gave the rookie center the verbal equivalent of a slap on the backside while discussing Embiid’s potential.
"It should be illegal to be that big and that skilled at the same time. He's got a terrific future,” Joerger told The Inquirer. “The sky is the limit. Goodness gracious is he good. He's really good.”
That’s the basic sentiment of most who watch Embiid play, and why he is a dark horse candidate to sneak into the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, in New Orleans, on Feb. 19. Providing he remains healthy, the crowd-pleaser from Cameroon will be in “The Big Easy” for all-star weekend, at the very least to participate in the league’s Rising Stars Challenge, a showcase for rookies and second-year players that takes place two days before the main event. Embiid’s talent is undeniable, and his season averages while playing in 21 of Philly’s 30 games — 18.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 46.8% shooting in 24.7 minutes — make him a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year and a possible all-star.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he is a serious consideration for that," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Embiid’s chances of becoming an all-star in his debut season. "I mean, he hasn't done much wrong for him not to be legitimately considered for that game."
As The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey outlined, through the years 45 rookies have played their way into an all-star selection. Even so, only 10 have done so since 1985:
- Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers (2011)
- Yao Ming, Houston (2003)
- Tim Duncan, San Antonio (1998)
- Grant Hill, Detroit (1995)
- Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando (1993)
-Dikembe Mutombo, Denver (1992)
- David Robinson, San Antonio (1990)
- Patrick Ewing, New York (1986)
- Michael Jordan, Chicago (1985)
- Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston (1985)
Recent history suggests impactful big men who capture the imagination have a better shot than anyone of breaking into the exhibition showcase. And Embiid’s game falls in that category.
"You leave an arena," Brown said, while discussing his starting center’s array of skills, "you leave a practice and you leave all the games we played, saying I haven't seen that.”
To an extent, fans, players, coaches and media all have a say in whether Embiid becomes a rare rookie all-star. The NBA used to give the fans all the say in the game’s starting lineups, dating back to 1974-75. The popularity vote won’t carry the same weight this year, though. Those who run the league decided to give the popular vote 50 percent of the weight in picking starting fives for the Eastern and Western conferences this season, with the other 50 percent split evenly between votes from current players and a select group of media members who cover the NBA. The league’s coaches, as usual, will select the all-star reserves.
So how can a fan try and propel Embiid into a starting spot? There are a few options, the first being selecting him as one of three frontcourt players and two guards from the Eastern Conference, via a traditional ballot at NBA.com or through the NBA App.
Easier and quicker avenues exist, as well. The following are rules for voting through social media or Google, per the NBA (voting concludes Jan. 16):
- Twitter: Tweet, retweet or reply with an NBA player’s first and last name or Twitter handle, along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE. Each Tweet may include only one player’s name or handle. Fans may vote for 10 unique players each day throughout the NBA All-Star voting period.
Facebook: Post the player’s first and last name along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE on your personal Facebook account, or comment on another’s Facebook post. Each post may include only one player’s name. Fans may post votes for 10 unique players per day throughout the voting period.
Google search: Search “NBA Vote All-Star” or “NBA Vote Team Name” (ex: NBA Vote Sixers), and use respective voting cards that appear to select teams and players. Fans may submit votes for 10 unique players per day throughout the voting period.
As one would expect, the Sixers, while 7-23 and not creating much buzz for the organization as a whole, are capitalizing on their most marketable player and encouraging fans to vote for Embiid.
Is Embiid really a more deserving frontcourt starter in the East than, say, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kristaps Porzingis? (Obviously, no one should get a vote over LeBron James.) That’s the beauty — or ugliness, depending on your perspective — of the voting format. A fan can vote for any player in the NBA she or he wants, regardless of merit. So a trendy talent such as Embiid, who also has wowed opponents and media, seems to have a legitimate shot.
"If it's possible, it would be great,” the big man told The Inquirer, “and especially as a rookie, that would be exciting. That'd be great.”
Surely Embiid will trust the voting process.
No one expected rookie Cheick Diallo, a second-round draft pick, to turn around the New Orleans Pelicans — or even immediately become a rotation player. And two months into the former Kansas big man’s NBA career, those assumptions surrounding Diallo have proven valid.
Even so, the raw, 6-foot-9 forward from Mali looks like someone who could carve out a niche for himself with more playing time and development.
While Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has only sent Diallo onto the court in 6 of the team’s 20 games, the 20-year-old project has experienced an upswing in playing time of late. Four of the backup post player’s appearances have come in the past two weeks — a stretch in which Diallo has averaged 9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.3 blocks in 17.8 minutes, while also receiving three DNP’s.
As highlighted by Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer, on one night against the Los Angeles Clippers (albeit in a blowout loss on Dec. 10), Diallo surpassed or met all of his personal bests from his one season at Kansas in the following categories, with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist in 31 minutes.
“Diallo failed to meet expectations in college,” O’Connor wrote, “but he could exceed them as the no. 33 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The Pels are trying to win games, too, but it’s become clear that they’re facing yet another lost season, at (now 10–20)… Hopefully Diallo will receive more minutes as the year wears on.”
The youngster figures to keep bouncing in and out of New Orleans’ rotation for the time being, but he showed some promise in his career performance against the Clippers, by cutting hard when spotting an opening in the middle of the floor, taking an active approach on the offensive glass, knocking down three jumpers and even scoring on the move with his left hand.
The Pelicans avoided Diallo accumulating much rust as a seldom-used rookie by sending him to the D-League for a stretch of November. In nine games for the Austin Spurs, Diallo got the minutes (23.3 a game) his NBA team couldn’t afford to offer him. He averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in the D-League, while shooting 51.1% from the floor and 25-for-36 (69.4%) around the rim.
After playing 22 minutes last week against Houston, in another 20-plus-point loss, Diallo explained how one night after watching an entire game form the bench he was able to contribute 10 points and 7 rebounds, on 4-for-5 shooting versus the Rockets.
“Coach always say to be ready, so I was ready. Today was my chance. He gave me a chance, so I just show what I can do,” Diallo said.
Gentry, the young backup power forward shared, likes utilizing Diallo’s quickness on defense when he can. On the occasions when New Orleans faces teams such as Houston, which uses lots of pick-and-rolls and has some post players spotting up on the perimeter, Diallo might see more chances to fill in.
“We switch, one through four sometimes — sometimes one to five,” the rookie said of the Pelicans’ defensive strategy. “So I can guard multiple positions, so that helped me a lot today (versus Houston).”
Diallo only played seven NBA minutes and hadn’t scored a point prior to his recent outburst against the Clippers. His patience and willingness to absorb all the coaching thrown his direction will help him continue on a positive path. While his one season at KU didn’t live up to the hype, his college coach, Bill Self, never once questioned Diallo’s ability to work hard toward improving.
“On the court, I’m all about taking care of business,” Diallo said before his first pro season began. “I do everything exactly how the coach tells me to do it. I’m not going to be laughing or giggling. Off the court, I’m cool and chill. On the court, I’m 100 percent focused.”
As long as the 20-year-old big embraces that approach, he’ll have less trouble eclipsing the forecasts many had for his future in the NBA.
The NBA and its fans have been warned. Do not anger Joel Embiid.
After Philadelphia came out flat and gave what Embiid considered an embarrassing performance on national television against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday — a game in which the rookie center from Kansas shot just 5-for-14 and only collected four rebounds — he told reporters those kind of nights irritate him.
“My job has been trying to change the culture,” Embiid told The Inquirer. “It just makes me mad that we come out on ESPN and TNT and play so bad.”
“It still kind of makes me mad when I go on Twitter,” Embiid added. “We didn’t have the worst record in the league (at the time). But people still say we do just because of the past.”
Provoked by that perceived lack of respect, the 22-year-old face of the 76ers channeled his frustrations Sunday against Brooklyn and cooked the Nets for a career-high 33 points, on 12-for-17 shooting.
"I felt for the first time, all over, he really wanted to dominate the game," Sixers coach Brett Brown said after Embiid also contributed 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, while going 2-for-3 from 3-point range and 7-for-8 at the free-throw line in 27 minutes. "He really wanted to win the game. He really wanted to be the anchor to everything we were doing."
The 7-foot-2 star-in-the-making even dove into the arena’s most expensive seats trying to save a loose ball.
When he wasn’t scaring the life out of court-side ticket-holders, Embiid, the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year, was showing off a collection of offensive moves and skills that make many around the league think he will dominate for years to come — if he can stay healthy.
Jump hooks. Pull-up jumpers off of cross-overs. Soft bank shots off the glass from the post. Finishing alley-oops above the rim. Facing up and using his agility to spin past his man for a bucket. Spotting up for 3-pointers. Name an offensive skill. Embiid can do it.
Even when his body couldn’t quite keep up with what his brain wanted to accomplish against Brooklyn, good things happened.
At one point, Embiid blew a dunk after turning a steal into a fast-break opportunity, but he’s so large and nimble the big from Cameroon had the ability to gather his own miss and score without his foes having much hope.
On another offensive possession, Philly’s centerpiece fell down on the floor while kicking a pass to the wing on the move. But Embiid just got back up and turned it into a give-and-go layup.
As reported by Keith Pompey of The Inquirer, Embiid became the franchise’s first rookie to post at least 33 and 10 since Hall of Famer Hal Greer went for 45 points and 11 boards for the Syracuse Nationals in 1959.
"I thought my teammates were finding me, and then I was getting into the flow of the offense,” the rookie big man said afterward. ”I wasn't forcing anything. I was just playing basketball."
Now all the rest of the league can do is hope Embiid is more jovial than apoplectic when it’s time to face Philadelphia. Though with the Sixers’ 7-20 record (tied for the worst winning percentage with Dallas), most teams should still be all right, regardless of the big man’s mood.
Uh-oh. Did I just poke the bear? I mean, that guy killed a lion once. Sorry, NBA.
You probably already knew former Kansas standout Andrew Wiggins was a better NBA player than many around the league. Take, I don’t know, every player who starts for the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. Wiggins is definitely better than Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, D’Angelo Russell and Nick “Swaggy P” Young, right?
As if we needed any confirmation of this fact, Wiggins provided it Sunday by scoring a new career-high 47 points — as many as the Lakers’ starting five combined.
The Timberwolves’ ever-improving wing would’ve reached 50 points — and outscored L.A’s starters by himself — had a late 3-pointer not misfired.
Minnesota’s home crowd, the Star Tribune reported, badly wanted Wiggins to hit 50.
“Not as bad as me,” Wiggins said afterward.
One of the crazy factors in the 6-foot-8 small forward’s massive night is he reached 47 points with just two of five 3-pointers falling through the net. Keep in mind: Wiggins actually leads the league in 3-point shooting (17-for-31) at 54.8%.
Wiggins quickly eclipsed his previous career high of 36 — set less than a week before against Brooklyn — by working the Lakers over with his jumper and getting to the paint, making 14 of 21 shots overall.
Plus, he lived at the free-throw line, what with the Lakers’ inability to stop him offensively. Wiggins shot 17-for-22 at the charity stripe — both easily season highs — to improve his season free-throw shooting percentage to 74.1%.
The offensive explosion came on the second day of a back-to-back, after Wiggins attempted more shots (8-for-24) in a 22-point effort against L.A.’s far superior team, the Clippers.
“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”
There are still months to play in the season, but at this juncture Wiggins qualifies as one of the NBA’s better scorers. Averaging 26.3 points a game, he ranks ninth in the category. Still, Thibodeau sees even more potential in his 21-year-old wing.
“He’s smart. He’s driven,” the first-year T’wolves coach told the Star Tribune. “I think sometimes people mistakenly take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. He’s just scratching the surface. I think he can be a lot more. … I don’t want to put a lid on it. It’s what he wants it to be.”
Minnesota (3-6) has another future all-star in Karl-Anthony Towns, but the franchise could use an assertive Wiggins carrying much of the scoring load as the team tries to reach the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Though it seems inevitable, the Timberwolves still have quite a journey in front of them before they can reach the upper echelon of the Western Conference, and that day likely won’t come for a couple more seasons. Once they get there, though, games like this one from Wiggins will qualify as key milepost markers along that pilgrimage.
With the growing buzz emanating from Philadelphia thanks to Joel Embiid, it’s become easy of late to overlook another former Kansas basketball player on his way to NBA stardom.
Also overshadowed on his own team by superstar-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns, perhaps Andrew Wiggins did enough in his first two years with Minnesota to ignore his progress the first few weeks of this season.
Big mistake. The Timberwolves (1-5) have yet to prove worthy of their preseason hype, but Wiggins looks even more assertive and impressive than a year ago, when he averaged 20.7 points a game.
In four of his six starts, Wiggins has scored 25 or more points. Tuesday night at Brooklyn, the 21-year-old Canadian sensation went for career-highs with 36 points and six 3-pointers.
Whether it’s just a hot start or a sign of things to come, Wiggins’ 3-point shooting in Year 3 has far exceeded what anyone could’ve envisioned for the hyper-athletic, 6-foot-8 wing. After making only 31% from downtown as a rookie and dipping to 30% in 2015-16, Wiggins has caught fire, draining 12 of 18 — 66.7% — on the young season. And while it is way too early to consider him the league’s newest marksman, the fact is Wiggins leads The Association in 3-point percentage, currently sharing that distinction with none other than Embiid (6-for-9).
If Wiggins can make defenders fear his outside touch consistently, the ferocious slasher and dunker could develop into quite a force on the perimeter.
On a career night, though, Wiggins told the Star Tribune following a nine-point road loss to the Nets he felt disappointed in his lack of production at the foul line, where he went 4-for-8. One of his biggest strengths on offense is driving to draw contact, but so far this season Wiggins is only making 68.9% of his free throws.
“I’ve been working on them,” he told the Star Tribune. “I’m shooting worse than last year (76.1%). I’ve just got to keep repetition, working on it in practice.”
Wiggins didn’t see any point in basking in his big individual success, either:
“I’d rather do less and we win. Winning is what we all want to do. Losing is never fun.”
The future all-star can be a pleasure to watch, though, especially on nights like that.
Wiggins and his young teammates are holding themselves to higher standards, but they are just getting started under a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, and it’s hard to imagine the T’wolves continuing to lose at this rate. A couple weeks into an 82-game grind, Minnesota is in the middle of the pack in defensive rating (103.4, tied for 14th). That figures to improve under Thibodeau, and if the defense makes a jump in the right direction while Wiggins continues climbing toward significant offensive refinement, this could be the first of many successful seasons to come for the former No. 1 overall pick and the franchise.
The future has arrived. Joel Embiid made his official NBA debut Wednesday night and did not disappoint.
After two full seasons of watching from the sidelines and rehabbing foot injuries, the 7-foot-2 phenom dazzled on his Philadelphia launch date, the 2016-17 regular-season home opener.
Embiid scored 20 points, grabbed, seven rebounds, blocked two shots — while playing just 22 minutes — and left the 76ers’ fans dreaming about the greatness ahead for the 22-year-old center, who heard chants of “Trust The Process” and “MVP” directed his way during a couple of trips to the free-throw line, where he went 7-for-8.
The young big man, who looked the part of a franchise centerpiece, did miss 10 shots, going 6-for-16. But remember: this was his very first real NBA game (no offense, preseason) and Embiid played on a minutes restriction. Sixers coach Brett Brown started him, but stuck to playing the former Kansas standout in four- to five-minute shifts — according to the organization’s strategy for easing their valuable young asset back onto the floor, in hope of avoiding another major injury setback. Between the newness of competing at that level, dealing with pesky Oklahoma City big man Steven Adams and frequently subbing out of the game, Embiid handled it all quite well.
"I try to make it a regular day," Embiid told The Inquirer before the game, during a session with reporters. "It's hard. You think what you've gone through the past two years, the loss of my brother and having to get another surgery and all of the ups and downs."
None of those factors appeared to bother him once the nationally televised game began. Fittingly, Embiid’s first pro bucket came on a move that highlighted his crafty footwork and soft shooting touch. After catching the ball at the top of the key, the big man dribbled toward the foul line, gave a shoulder fake one direction, pivoted away from his defender and drained a smooth fall-away jumper.
Even though Philadelphia lost to Oklahoma City, 76ers fans fell in love with their new big, who showcased a borderline ludicrous face-up game for a man his size, blocked Russell Westbrook — like THE Russell Westbrook — on a drive to the rim and even knocked down a 3-pointer.
Afterward, Brown spoke glowingly of his center from Cameroon.
"For a city to be rewarded for a player that we all understand has special gifts," Brown said in The Inquirer’s recap, "and play like he played, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it."
And Thunder coach Billy Donovan didn’t hold back his praises of Embiid, either.
"He's hard to guard," Donovan said in Keith Pompey’s game story for The Inquirer. "He's herky-jerky. He's got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuwon in him."
Joel Embiid has arrived. And the scary thing for the rest of the NBA is he’s only going to get better.
Counting Down the Most Interesting KU Players to Watch This NBA Season
As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We now arrive at the cream of the KU crop. You could argue where each of the following players would fall in the rankings, but these are the five most talented Jayhawks employed by the NBA right now. Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best, though. We’re talking about which players you’re going to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
No. 5: Markieff Morris — Washington Wizards
The starting power forward on a team expecting to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Markieff Morris seems poised for the best season of his NBA career.
Markieff (angrily) began 2015-16 playing for Phoenix, the organization that had just split him up from twin brother Marcus by trading his sibling away to Detroit. The Suns finally moved Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past February, but you got the sense he didn’t quite reach his full offensive capacity with the Wizards in the weeks that followed.
Upon arriving in D.C., Markieff certainly wasn’t bad. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 46.7% from the floor (far better than his 39.7% in Phoenix in the 37 games leading up to the move). But it’s easy to see him improving upon all his numbers during his upcoming sixth pro season. He’s not entering a team late in a campaign. The Wizards have a new player-friendly head coach in Scott Brooks. Markieff now has a better feel for playing with all-star point guard John Wall and should help the Wizards stretch the floor while center Marcin Gortat plays in the post.
Washington advanced in the playoffs two straight springs before taking a step backward and missing the postseason in 2016. If Markieff makes them better by maximizing his talents he will gain the sort of league-wide respect he has yet to attain.
No. 4: Marcus Morris — Detroit Pistons
You never know how a season will play out, but as 2016-17 begins, it seems Detroit, the team Marcus Morris plays for, is considered more of a sure thing in the East than Washington, current home of his brother, Markieff.
The twins play similar complimentary roles for their respective franchises but Marcus, unlike his bro, enters his sixth year in the league on the heels of his most impressive season since the duo left Kansas. A reserve the vast majority of his time in Phoenix, Marcus became a starter with the Pistons and responded by producing the best numbers of his career: 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists. He also shot 43.4% from the floor and made 108 3-pointers (36.2%).
Detroit point guard and leading scorer Reggie Jackson is out with an injury for a few weeks, so Detroit could start slowly, but some around the league think the Pistons could end up being one of the top three teams in the East not named Cleveland. Should Detroit pull that off, Morris’ role in that rise would be hard to ignore.
No. 3: Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings
Both of the Morris twins are more accomplished in the NBA than Ben McLemore, but the fourth-year shooting guard is entering the most important season of his professional career.
McLemore’s name has come up in Sacramento trade rumors for the past year of so, and that’s a trend that figures to continue in the weeks and months ahead. The Kings, per usual, have a new head coach, Dave Joerger. Just how McLemore fits into Joerger’s plans remains to be seen.
Early signs indicate McLemore, who averaged a career-low 7.8 points in 2015-16, won’t start for Sacramento any more, with Arron Afflalo playing 2-guard on the first unit. Can McLemore thrive as scoring sixth man? Are the Kings just diminishing his role because they plan on trading him away at the first possible chance?
Once next July gets here, McLemore will be a restricted free agent — regardless of which team he suits up for to close the season. So now would be the ideal time to make a leap in production and 3-point shooting (34.6% for his career). Maybe a change in scenery would help him reach that untapped potential.
No. 2: Andrew Wiggins — Minnesota Timberwolves
Already a highlight Vine waiting to happen, third-year wing Andrew Wiggins’ career trajectory should make another explosive leap upward this year as a rising star for the league darling Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his second season, Wiggins broke the 20-point barrier for his scoring average, putting up 20.7 a night, while complimenting future superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns. We shouldn’t expect him to take that average to 25 this year or anything crazy. But you’d like to see him improve his shooting percentages: 48.6% on 2-pointers last year, and 30% from behind the 3-point line.
Assuming Wiggins can help those numbers out himself through shot selection and just natural improvement through development — the man hasn’t even turned 22 yet — he’s going to become a more dangerous offensive player in Year 3.
Even more fascinating, though, will be the impact new T’wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has on Wiggins. A defensive guru, Thibodeau could transform the 6-foot-8, high-flying forward into a monster on defense. And the more stops Wiggins and company get on that end, the more chances Minnesota will have to get out in the open floor and finish fast breaks with Wiggins jams.
No. 1: Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers
Forget the qualification of Jayhawks in the league. Rookie center Joel Embiid is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA this season. Period. But you probably knew that before you clicked on this post.
For the love of all things basketball, injuries have deprived us all of watching Embiid’s crazy array of post moves and deft touch for more than two years. We’ve seen glimpses already in the preseason of the promise the big man from Cameroon showed in his abbreviated one-and-done season at Kansas.
Even though Philadelphia has limited Embiid’s minutes early on to make sure his foot problems don’t resurface, the early results have been spectacular.
He’s 7-foot-2. He can handle the ball. He can knock down jumpers. He can protect the rim. He has moves in the post to score over his defender. The potential for Embiid seems limitless. Then again, he should’ve been a rookie two years ago but his body didn’t allow it.
Can Embiid make it through a full season without suffering another major injury setback? If he does, his overall game and confidence will only skyrocket.
The coming months will determine where the Embiid story goes next. If he stays relatively healthy, he has as legit a shot as anyone at winning Rookie of the Year. And the seasons to come just might include all-star appearances, all-NBA teams and carrying a declining franchise back to its former glory.