Entries from blogs tagged with “NBA”

How close is free agent Mario Chalmers to returning to the NBA?

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) looks for an open teammate past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Miami. Chalmers, playing against Miami as an opponent for the first time since being traded to Memphis last month, finished with 12 for the Grizzlies as the Heat defeated the Grizzlies 100-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) looks for an open teammate past Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Miami. Chalmers, playing against Miami as an opponent for the first time since being traded to Memphis last month, finished with 12 for the Grizzlies as the Heat defeated the Grizzlies 100-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Mario Chalmers hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since he tore his right Achilles while playing for Memphis nearly a year ago. But the former Kansas star considers his return to the league imminent.

During a lengthy interview with The Summer Podcast this week, Chalmers, currently a free agent, revealed though he is still grinding through a lengthy and challenging rehab process, he’s now close to 100 percent.

“I really think by the end of this month,” Chalmers said, “I’ll be back to that old Rio.”

The 30-year-old guard who helped Miami win championships in 2012 and 2013 couldn’t say the same a couple weeks back, when he worked out for Cleveland, home of his former Heat teammate, LeBron James.

Reflecting on that recent experience, Chalmers thought it went well, and said he shot the ball better in three-on-three and four-on-four situations than in drills. When Cavaliers general manager David Griffin asked him how his ankle and heel felt, Chalmers told his potential employer he could maintain and give Cleveland what it needed.

“But,” Chalmers recalled adding, “ I don’t feel like I’d be me. I don’t feel like I would be the Rio that was in Memphis and how I was able to rock like that.”

At the time, Chalmers explained, he didn’t have his full confidence or flexibility completely back. However, he now feels better than he has since tearing his Achilles March 9, 2016, at Boston.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) is helped from the court after injuring his right leg during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) is helped from the court after injuring his right leg during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Since then, the eight-year NBA veteran has worked toward his return, even though he couldn’t even get in a gym and put up shots for several months.

Chalmers said shortly after suffering the devastating injury, which he wouldn’t wish on his “worst enemy,” Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant reached out to him via text message.

“This is probably going to be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life,” Chalmers recalled of Bryant’s message. “But I’ve seen you play and I know your personality and I know you form (Dwyane) Wade. If anybody can do this, you can do it.”

The words of encouragement came out of the blue form someone Chalmers considered the greatest player he ever faced, and he said the message helped direct him toward a grueling recovery.

So far, Chalmers only has worked out for Cleveland — he said his former team, Memphis, watched him in person earlier in the process to see where he was at.

“We’ll see what’s next,” Chalmers said. “I just want an opportunity. This is my first time being without basketball for this long. I’ve been playing basketball since I was two.”

Chalmers’ entire interview with The Summer Podcast covers an array of topics, including why things soured for him in Miami, playing high school ball in Alaska, how he ended up at KU and slipping into the second round of the NBA Draft after leaving Kansas a year early.

Kansas University's Mario Chalmers (15) leads the celebration as time runs out on the Jayhawks' 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis. Chalmers hit a three-pointer to tie it with 2.1 seconds left in regulation, and the Jayhawks went on to win their first national title in 20 years.

Kansas University's Mario Chalmers (15) leads the celebration as time runs out on the Jayhawks' 75-68 overtime victory over Memphis. Chalmers hit a three-pointer to tie it with 2.1 seconds left in regulation, and the Jayhawks went on to win their first national title in 20 years. by thad-allender

Fans of Chalmers and/or the Jayhawks will get a kick out of the stories he shares, which include the former KU guard’s accounts of some not-safe-for-work motivational speeches Bill Self delivered during Chalmers’ time in Lawrence.

Although Chalmers explains he grew up dreaming of playing at North Carolina, he is grateful for what he picked up under Self’s guidance — even if the KU coach challenged his manhood along the way.

“He’s a player’s coach,” Chalmers said of Self. “He puts his players first. He don’t care about anybody’s ego or if you’re the best man or the worst man. He’s gonna treat you like you were supposed to be the star player regardless.”

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Markieff Morris playing ‘out of his mind’ for surging Wizards

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (33) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (33) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

A couple months back, the Washington didn’t look like a playoff team. The Wizards dropped eight of their first 10 games, leading many to assume they would flounder and miss the postseason for a second straight year.

However, few teams in the NBA are as hot as Washington these days, and first-year head coach Scott Brooks says former Kansas star Markieff Morris has as much to do with the turnaround as anyone on the roster.

In an interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Brooks explained how Morris became much more of a consistent force for the Wizards recently. The way the former Oklahoma City coach remembers it, Brooks let Morris know at halftime of one poor outing (he thinks it was against Philadelphia about a month ago) that the starting power forward wasn’t giving the team everything it needed from him.

Perhaps Brooks could’ve grabbed Morris’s attention earlier, considering the 6-foot-10 stretch-4 averaged 12.4 points in November and 12.7 in December, but Brooks wanted to establish a strong relationship with his players and have them understand his approach as the team’s new coach before hitting them with anything drastic.

By mid-January, Brooks felt comfortable letting Morris know it was time for a change.

“I think the game is supposed to be played in a fun way. But to me ‘fun’ is playing hard and competing and clawing and doing whatever it takes within the rules to try and beat your opponent,” Brooks said on The Lowe Post. “That, to me, is fun. And if I see that it’s below the level that we need to be at, I tell you — whether you’re John Wall or Bradley (Beal) or Kieff or somebody that doesn’t play as much.

“Your job is to go in there and compete, and … I know that (Morris) has that in him, and I tell you what, he has been playing, like I said, out of his mind,” Brooks added. “We’re not in this position right now if it wasn’t for him.”

Morris caught his coach’s message and reacted by improving his overall play. Over the past four weeks, the sixth-year veteran is averaging 18.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent on 3-pointers.

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The Wizards (33-21) have won 14 of their last 16 games and are holding steady as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, only 2.5 games back of Boston for the No. 2 spot and 5 games behind defending champion Cleveland.

From a production standpoint, Morris has made much greater of an impact by giving Washington more from beyond the arc. A 32.9-percent career 3-point shooter, Morris only connected on 30.6 percent of his 3s in November, and that number plummeted to 22.7 percent in December. In January, Morris nailed 41.4 percent from downtown. In five February games, he’s 8-for-22 — 6-for-9 in the past two D.C. wins, which included a 23-point performance in a blowout versus Oklahoma City.

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“I met with him early in the season,” Brooks told Lowe, “like a month in, I said, ‘You’ve got something that a lot of guys don’t have.’ And he says, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You can post up and take smaller guys at the block, but you also have the ability to take, to shoot 3s.’ But, I said, ‘You don’t want to take ’em for some reason. You’d rather take 17-footers, one-dribble pull-ups.’ I said, ‘That game is becoming dinosaurs, and if you’re gonna do that, it’s gonna be hard for you to fulfill this career that you can potentially have.’

“And I tell you what, he has really challenged himself and I want him to shoot as many 3s as he can shoot. I think he should shoot five a game, but don’t take away his low post when he has a good matchup,” Brooks added.

Markieff Morris' shot chart since coach Scott Brooks let him know he needed to play at a higher level.

Markieff Morris' shot chart since coach Scott Brooks let him know he needed to play at a higher level. by Benton Smith

Morris averaged 3.6 3-point tries a game in January, and has taken 4.4 a game from deep thus far in February.

The 27-year-old Morris, who now has been with Washington for the equivalent of a full season after being traded from Phoenix in February of 2016, told The Washington Post not long ago he and his teammates benefit offensively from the all-star play of their point guard, Wall.

“You see how easy it is when he gets to penetrating. He’s a great passer,” Morris said of the team’s star. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head, so we just got to get open.”

The Wizards haven’t been held below 100 points since the first week of January, and are 17-4 in that stretch with Wall carrying his team toward the top of the East standings.

“If we make shots, he’d have 20 assists every game,” Morris said. “He’s a great player, top point guard to me. He leads us and we just follow his footsteps.”

Of late, Brooks thinks Morris, like Wall, deserves credit for Washington’s resurgence.

“I love him,” the coach said of Morris. “I love how he’s playing. He’s fun to coach. I really think that we have a good team because of what he has done.”

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Tarik Black earns master’s degree, plans to start own foundation

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) slam dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and forward Terrence Jones (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Lakers won 126-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) slam dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and forward Terrence Jones (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Lakers won 126-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Tarik Black only spent one season playing for Kansas, but he quickly became a fan favorite.

After leaving Memphis as a graduate transfer, Black played 13.5 minutes per game in his senior year, mostly playing behind Joel Embiid.

But since his time in Lawrence, Black has continued to maximize his opportunities from KU.

He recently earned his master’s degree in African-American studies from Kansas. According to a story from Marc J. Spears in The Undefeated, Black put in paperwork to start the Tarik Black Foundation, which he hopes will provide opportunities for inner-city youth in his hometown Memphis.

“I live life to be the role model that I always wanted,” Black said. “And if anybody can learn anything from my story, it is to take what you need, because I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve seen a lot and I won’t be bold enough to say I’ve seen everything. So I won’t ever sit and say that I don’t want anybody to ever mimic me, because a lot of people mimic people.”

In his third year in the NBA, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Black is averaging 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s played in 40 games, making three starts.

Black didn’t hear his name called during the 2014 NBA draft, but he’s carved out a role with his strength and hustle.

During his summer offseasons, Black was focused on finishing classes and earning his master’s degree. He told Spears that he chose African-American studies after finishing three points shy of passing the GRE General Test to enter business school. His mother used to work for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

“My dream and passion actually is doing nonprofit work in a city with so much history when it comes to civil rights leaders or slavery,” Black said. “And the Underground Railroad, Memphis was the main stop in it. So, being from a city like that, understanding the background and wanting to go back and work with inner-city youth, which is my true passion, it actually ended up being a blessing.”

Perhaps what made Black such a strong fan favorite was his positive attitude and ability to notice the big picture.

So it’s no surprise that Black has big plans once he’s done playing basketball.

“It took people helping me through it,” Black said. “People were there for me and my backbone, and carried me through it, locking me into getting it done. It feels wonderful to have that paperwork, especially in today’s world. A bachelor’s doesn’t mean much. It’s basically like a high school diploma. So, having a master’s, it means so much, especially to have the accolade as 24-year-old black man and to me personally.”

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Report: Mario Chalmers and Kirk Hinrich to work out with Cleveland

FILE — Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) plays in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

FILE — Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) plays in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

LeBron James isn’t happy with the state of Cleveland’s roster, what with the defending NBA champions going 7-8 in January. Perhaps adding a former Kansas basketball player to the mix will appease The King.

ESPN’s Chris Haynes reports a pair of free-agent Jayhawks, Mario Chalmers and Kirk Hinrich, will work out with the Cavaliers Wednesday.

James last week went public with his concerns about the team’s lack of depth, stating the Cavaliers need another experienced play-maker. Chalmers, who tore his right Achilles while playing with Memphis in March of 2016, long served as a role player on James’ championship teams in Miami. The 30-year-old guard has spent the past several months rehabbing, with the possibility of pouncing on this type of mid-season opportunity in mind.

Unlike Hinrich, who played sparingly for Chicago and Atlanta during the 2015-16 season, Chalmers remained a key contributor when last he appeared in the NBA. Though Miami had moved on from the former KU standout, he thrived in Memphis as a backup guard in a scoring role.

None by Mario Chalmers

In 55 games with the Grizzlies before suffering a season-ending injury, Chalmers averaged 10.8 points and 3.8 assists in just 22.8 minutes off the bench, while shooting 41.7% from the floor and 32.6% from 3-point range.

How close his Achilles is to 100 percent, only Chalmers knows, but this will give him a chance to prove he can still make plays in the league. And if Cleveland decides to sign Chalmers, it would give him a chance to help the Cavs chase another championship.

ESPN reports Lance Stephenson and other free agents will attend the workout, too, as the organization looks to fill an empty roster spot and give James and company some bench support.

FILE — Former Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich, right, and Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, left, chase a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

FILE — Former Chicago Bull Kirk Hinrich, right, and Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, left, chase a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Hinrich, now 36, played a career-low 13.7 minutes last season and didn’t generate much interest in free agency this past summer — when teams had to pass on Chalmers because he was just a few months removed form a major knee injury.

In 11 games with Atlanta last season, Hinrich only played 6.9 minutes a game and made just 2 of his 11 shot attempts while contributing mostly at practices and behind the scenes.

Just 26, Stephenson might have two young legs up on Chalmers and Hinrich. A year ago, he too proved productive in Memphis, averaging 14.2 points and 2.8 assists. Stephenson signed with New Orleans before the current season began, but didn’t stick after playing just six games.

As long as Chalmers is healthy, odds are he’ll find a spot with a playoff team in the weeks ahead, even if Cleveland goes another direction. He has championship experience and is mature enough to fit in with a new group and take on whatever role is handed to him.

Hinrich, of course, would be a fine addition to any team’s culture and structure. The question for him is whether his body will still allow him to make plays against much younger competition.

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Joel Embiid thought he deserved an All-Star spot

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez, left, watches as Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during the second half of the NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez, left, watches as Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during the second half of the NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

One of the more popular young players in the NBA, Philadelphia rookie center Joel Embiid didn’t take it too personally when the league’s coaches failed to select him as one of seven reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

While the fans gave Embiid the third-most votes among East frontcourt players — the former Kansas big man trailed only superstar LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — Chicago’s Jimmy Butler took the third frontcourt starting spot, with the support of player and media votes. The coaches chose Cleveland’s Kevin Love, Indiana’s Pual George and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap for the East’s backup bigs and forwards.

“A little disappointed,” Embiid said of his reaction to being left off the team, while speaking with reporters Friday in Philadelphia. “A lot of guys that made it deserved it, and I’m young, so I’m gonna get a lot of chances, so I’m not (too) disappointed.”

Asked if he could use the snub as motivation, though, the 22-year-old center stated his case for why he should’ve become the league’s first rookie all-star since Blake Griffin, in 2011.

“I thought I deserved it,” said Embiid, who in 30 games for the 76ers is averaging 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists, while playing 25.3 minutes. “You know, not that I care about my stats, but that’s one of the points that could’ve been proven. But I think the thing was the minutes, which I didn’t understand. If you average that many points in 24, 25 minutes, I don’t know. That should be the case. But, like I said, I’m not disappointed. I’m happy for those guys.”

Embiid vs. Love, George and Millsap
Rk Player Age G MP
FG% 3P% 2P% eFG% FT% ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1Joel Embiid223025.3.462.348.495.501.7772.07.82.10.82.53.73.619.8
2Kevin Love283932.1.429.376.472.514.8692.611.01.90.80.42.11.920.5
3Paul Millsap314334.0.444.335.481.486.7501.78.13.81.51.02.32.618.0
4Paul George263835.4.453.395.485.522.9230.86.03.31.70.32.82.722.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2017.
Embiid vs. Love, George and Millsap
Rk Player Age G MP PER
TS% 3PAr FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG%
1Joel Embiid223075823.9.579.225.5828.825.017.016.11.67.817.936.2
2Kevin Love2839125022.2.579.454.3588.928.518.99.91.30.910.627.0
3Paul George2638134719.2.580.348.2782.515.89.315.72.30.612.727.7
4Paul Millsap3143146318.6.536.250.3615.420.813.118.32.22.512.024.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2017.

As Embiid referenced, his relative lack of minutes played in comparison to his colleagues chosen as all-stars by the coaches likely made the difference in the debate. Love, George and Millsap all have played in more games this season and spent less time on the bench than Embiid in those starts. Based on clocking in and clocking out, they’ve put in more game work than the rookie this season, and that means a lot to coaches.

Embiid did have some good news, though, after sitting out of the Sixers’ previous three games, in part because of a left knee bruise.

“I’m feeling good. My knee’s feeling great,” the 7-foot-2 phenom from Cameroon reported.

So are Embiid’s teammates, because, unlike in recent seasons, the 76ers are actually competitive. The young face of the franchise said the energy around the organization has been “amazing” of late, with Philly winning eight of its last 10, and even picking up two victories in his absence.

“My job here is kind of like to change the culture,” Embiid said. “The Sixers, the past three years, people have said that they’re trying to tank or whatever, but that wasn’t the case. Now we’re proving that we’re trying to win, trying to make the playoffs and I think we’ve got a pretty good chance. So my job here is kind of like to bring the excitement back to the city and just change the culture.”

Philadelphia (17-27) enters Friday’s nationally televised game against Houston 4.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

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How Joel Embiid’s numbers stack up against other potential East all-stars

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Beaten out by sixth-year Chicago veteran Jimmy Butler for the final frontcourt starting spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team last week, rookie NBA sensation Joel Embiid will learn Thursday night whether the league’s coaches have voted him onto the team as a reserve.

Seven roster spots remain — with two slotted for guards, three for frontcourt players and two more for wild cards — and the inevitable 2017 Rookie of the Year has a legitimate shot at becoming an all-star in his debut season with Philadelphia, following a torturous two-year wait due to Embiid’s foot fracture.

The NBA announced last week the top-10 vote-getters at each position, per the composite point system that took into account where players ranked among fans, players and media members. If the league still mandated a center had to be represented in the starting lineup — which it did until 2013 — Embiid would be starting. The 7-foot-2 pivot from Cameroon received more votes than any other East center. What’s more, the former Kansas standout ranked third overall among East forwards and bigs in fan votes, getting more love than Kevin Love, so if the NBA hadn’t altered its voting process before this season to include players and media, he would be starting.

The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Embiid suffered a left knee bruise this past Friday in a Sixers victory over Portland and has been held out of the lineup to heal. He is expected to return Friday versus Houston.

As pointed out by Keith Pompey of Philly.com, the 76ers are 3-10 without their smiling face of the franchise on the floor. When Embiid does play, the Sixers are 13-17 — this from an organization that has lost more than 75% of its games in each of the previous three seasons.

None by Keith Pompey

Of late, Philadelphia has thrived with its starting center on the floor, winning six straight and eight of its last nine with Embiid playing. In 30 games, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists in just 25.3 minutes. The big man is shooting 46.2% from the floor, 34.8% from 3-point range and 77.7% at the foul line.

Whether all those numbers add up to a rare rookie all-star selection — only 10 first-year players have made the cut since 1985 — is up to the NBA’s 30 head coaches.

ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy, while appearing recently on Zach Lowe’s The Lowe Post podcast, was blown away to hear the impact Embiid makes statistically when he’s available. The Sixers’ net rating (an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions) with Embiid on the floor currently stands at +14.7, per basketball-reference.com.

“He is the MVP of the year then,” Van Gundy joked. “No, it’s over. Like, (Russell) Westbrook, (James) Harden, forget it. Embiid is MVP, and I’ll start leading the chants if we do another Sixer game, because if that’s true, with the roster that he has around him, that’s an incredible accomplishment.”

If a coaching veteran like Van Gundy can be swayed by the numbers and overlook the time Embiid has missed due to the Sixers taking injury precautions and limiting his minutes and availability, perhaps the current head coaches can, as well.

As for Embiid’s competition at this point, Love, a veteran with great numbers on the East’s best team, is a virtual lock. So the Sixers’ flamboyant big man will have to contend with a contingent of other frontcourt players for the final two to four roster spots — the coaches could vote in four guards for the bench unit, leaving just three total spots for reserve forwards and bigs.

Here’s who Embiid figures to be up against: Indiana’s Paul George, Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Atlanta’s Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker.

The Sixers depend upon Embiid more than any of his competitors’ teams need them, and the rookie big man’s Player Efficiency Rating ranks better than all of the other candidates in the discussion.

If Embiid doesn’t make it, you can likely ascribe that scenario to coaches preferring to give veterans their due or thinking the Sixers’ centerpiece hasn’t played enough games, compared to the other candidates — or all of the above.

No matter what the coaches decide, Embiid can book his flight to New Orleans for All-Star Weekend (Feb. 17-19), because he’ll be a headliner in the Rising Stars Challenge. And he just might join previously announced starters LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Butler and DeMar DeRozan on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Good news for Embiid: the games aren’t on back-to-back nights. The Rising Stars game is Friday and the main event is Saturday. And no one plays that many minutes in all-star games.

None by 2017 NBA All-Star

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Watch Andrew Wiggins bury game-winning jumper to cap 31-point night

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game-winning basket as Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Phoenix. The Timberwolves won 112-111. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game-winning basket as Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Phoenix. The Timberwolves won 112-111. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Hey, remember that guy who played basketball at Kansas with Joel Embiid a few years ago? Andrew Somethingorother, I think his name was. Canadian kid. What ever happened to him?

Oh, yeah. Andrew Wiggins. With soon-to-be Rookie of the Year and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Embiid capturing the attention of the entire league, the 7-foot-2 center has overshadowed his former teammate of late in the NBA.

Well, Wiggins delivered a nice reminder of his prominence within The Association Tuesday night, capping a 31-point outing at Phoenix with a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper.

His Timberwolves trailed by one with the fourth-quarter clock ticking toward 0:00, when Wiggins ran off a pair of picks to catch a pass from point guard Ricky Rubio on the right wing. Then, with Suns veteran P.J. Tucker checking him, the wiry third-year T’wolves wing angled for a potential drive with less than four seconds left on the clock. Wiggins went so hard on his first step (and may have drawn some contact), he nearly lost control and fell over, allowing Tucker to recover in time to force Wiggins into a low-percentage, contested fadeaway jumper. And the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft drained it for a 112-111 Minnesota win.

None by NBA

“I was taking what the defense gave me,” Wiggins said in his postgame interview with FOX Sports North. “You know, they played up close, so I went to my one-dribble pull-up fade, and it was money.”

Following his sixth game this season with 30 or more points — Wiggins also has scored 29 on four occasions — the low key 21-year-old said he could tell he would make his 11th basket on his 22nd shot as soon as the ball left his hand.

In the final seven minutes of the game, Wiggins took over, scoring 14 points to get struggling Minnesota (17-28) a rare road victory and its third straight win.

“My shot was falling,” he said. “I felt comfortable on the court. My teammates got me the ball when I needed it. They’re making big shots, too. Everyone was together tonight.”

None by FOX Sports North

Wiggins’ coach, Tom Thibodeau, who is in his first year with the franchise, praised his players’ mental toughness following the victory, referencing Minnesota’s several losses this season in which the team has relinquished leads in the second half.

Thibodeau said the final play had three options out of the set, and Wiggins getting the ball in a spot to either drive or shoot was one of them.

“In the fourth quarter you have to have the courage to take and make,” the coach said, “and he does. And so the more he does it, the more comfortable he’s gonna get. We all have a lot of confidence in him.”

Though the coach thought Wiggins, one of his young stars, alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, might have been held in the final sequence, he liked how the former Kansas standout fought to get to “his spot” on the floor before hoisting the clutch shot.

“He had the concentration and the mental toughness to take all the stuff that happened on that play and get a good shot,” Thibodeau said. “It was a great play by him.”

None by FOX Sports North

That mid-range area on the right half of the court, as his coach referenced, is one of Wiggins’ favorites. According to stats.nba.com, he has made 18 of 35 (51%) 2-point jumpers in that zone, well above the league average of 38.9% for that portion of the floor.

In his third NBA season, Wiggins is shooting 44.8% from the field, 34.2% on 3-pointers and 73.2% at the free-throw line, while producing 21.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists for Minnesota.

The Timberwolves, though not yet meeting preseason expectations, are only 3.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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What are Joel Embiid’s chances of making all-star team as rookie?

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, top, dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, top, dunks against Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The more Joel Embiid plays, the more the NBA Rookie of the Year-in-waiting amazes the Philadelphia fan base and observers league-wide.

The former Kansas big man has scored 20 or more points in his previous nine starts — all while playing between 24 to 30 minutes of 48-minute-long games. Embiid even has led the Sixers, a long mocked franchise that averaged 15.7 wins a season the previous three years, to victories in six of the last seven games in which he’s played.

Since the beginning of January, Embiid is averaging 22.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, while shooting 44.8% from the floor and 81.5% at the foul line and playing 27 minutes a game. The 22-year-old center seemingly improves by the week, and his season numbers of 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, in black and white, look like those of one of the better big men in the Eastern Conference. But does the best rookie in the league actually deserve to play in the NBA All-Star Game?

Hundreds of thousands of NBA fans have answered that question in the affirmative. Voting for all-star starters closed Monday. The results won’t be announced until Thursday night on TNT’s NBA Tip-Off show (6 p.m. CT), but here’s what we do know: at last announced count, Embiid ranked fourth among East frontcourt players in fan votes. As of last week, the fans had LeBron James (1,066,147 votes), Giannis Antetokounmpo (963,110) and Kevin Love (473,328) as their East frontcourt starters. But Embiid wasn’t too far behind Love, with 457,300 votes — narrowing the margin between he and Love from the first vote count by 12,335.

Did Embiid do enough in the final week of the voting period to surpass Love and break into the top three?

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Even if he did, that won’t automatically make him an all-star starter or guarantee him a roster spot for the Feb. 19 exhibition in New Orleans. Fan votes carry 50% of the weight in determining starting spots for the Eastern and Western conferences. The other 50% is split evenly between a select number of media who cover the NBA and the league’s current players.

Cleveland superstar James and Milwaukee’s rising star Antetokounmpo are virtual locks to start for the East. That third spot is up for grabs. It would be safe to guess many players and media would lean toward a vote for Love, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Indiana’s Paul George or New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis before they would vote for Embiid. All are more established than the rookie phenom, and the Sixers, though improved, still have just a 13-26 record.

And then there’s the matter of how much — or relatively little — Embiid has played in his first season. The Sixers wisely have kept him out of one game on either end of back-to-back dates and restricted his minutes to around 28 a night. They already spent two years without Embiid impacting their on-court product due to injury, and they want to protect their investment until they’re confident he can handle a complete role.

It’s not by his choice, but Embiid has missed 11 games and doesn’t get as much of a chance to impact games as other East stars, such as Butler (36.7 minutes a game), George (35.3), Antetokounmpo (34.7) and others.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe might have put it best on his Lowe Post podcast while discussing Embiid’s all-star case:

“I love watching Joel Embiid play. Love it. He’s unbelievable. If he stays healthy — knock on every piece of whatever material that is within arm’s length of you — he is going to be a superstar for a long time. He’s missed 10 games and he plays on a minutes restriction. He should not be in the All-Star Game.”

Already, Embiid has produced some almost unthinkable statistics for Philadelphia. Per Basketball-Reference, he’s averaging more points per 100 possessions in his first season than Michael Jordan did. As in No. 23. As in His Airness. As in The G.O.A.T.

None by Basketball Reference

ESPN put out another telling stat regarding Embiid’s impact. He ranks second-best in NBA history in rookie points per 36 minutes (28.0), trailing only Kansas legend and hall of famer Wilt Chamberlain (29.2).

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Those numbers hint at Embiid’s potential for longterm greatness. However, such examples might not matter to NBA media and players, who, as Lowe pointed out, will most likely take their all-star selections far more seriously than fans, because — right or wrong — sometimes after players’ careers are over their cases for the Hall of Fame can be tied to all-star appearances. So Embiid’s array of highlight blocks and dunks might not be enough to get him in as a starter.

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If Embiid doesn’t crack the East’s starting five, he would have to secure one of the seven reserve spots, as chosen by the NBA’s coaches (results announced Jan. 26 on TNT). The same factors that will work against the rookie with players and media might hurt him even more with the coaches. Do enough of them respect Embiid as much as they do other more established players whom they’ve played against and game-planned to try and stop for longer?

Let’s say, as an example, the East starting five matches the latest fan-voting totals. The starters would be James, Antetokounmpo, Love, a third Cav in Kyrie Irving and first-year Chicago Bull Dwyane Wade. The way coaches vote for the all-star backups, they can take two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards. As mentioned earlier, Butler, Anthony, Porzingis and George would be Embiid’s competition for those frountcourt spots. And if the coaches prefer them, or perhaps even Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker, landing one of the final two spots could be difficult, too.

The number of all-star caliber guards in the East is greater than the number of available reserve spots for perimeter players. If Irving and Wade start, the coaches would still have Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Washington’s John Wall from which to choose. It seems a fairly safe bet that four of those five will make it.

If Embiid isn’t a first-year all-star, he will still be a headliner in the Rising Stars Challenge (a showcase for first- and second-year players) at all-star weekend. And, let’s be honest, the way his game is progressing — or is that processing? — Embiid looks like a player who will be a no-brainer selection for years to come.

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First All-Star voting returns show Joel Embiid 4th among East frontcourt players

Philadelphia 76ers' Nik Stauskas, from left, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric celebrate after Covington's go-ahead basket in the final seconds of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 93-91. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Nik Stauskas, from left, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric celebrate after Covington's go-ahead basket in the final seconds of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 93-91. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

None by Joel Embiid

None by Joel Embiid

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.

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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

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

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

Guards

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

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Frontcourt

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

Guards

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

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How Kelly Oubre Jr. infuriated a gym full of strangers in Dallas

Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr., left, looks to pass the ball as he is defended by Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon (00) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr., left, looks to pass the ball as he is defended by Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon (00) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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.

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Know your role: Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black team up off Lakers’ bench

Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson, right, shoots as Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, of the Republic of Georgia, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 109-85. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson, right, shoots as Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, of the Republic of Georgia, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 109-85. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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.

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) slam dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and forward Terrence Jones (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Lakers won 126-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) slam dunks over New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and forward Terrence Jones (9) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. The Lakers won 126-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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.”

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Could Joel Embiid become league’s first rookie all-star since 2011?

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.”

DeMarcus x Joel. (via @bleacherreport)

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DeMarcus x Joel. (via @bleacherreport) by slamonline

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."

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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. 

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  • 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.

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None by Philadelphia 76ers

None by Philadelphia 76ers

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.

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Cheick Diallo showing promise with increased minutes in December

New Orleans Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo (#13) in actions during an NBA basketball game between Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

New Orleans Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo (#13) in actions during an NBA basketball game between Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

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.

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Warning: Do not anger Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, center, goes up for a dunk against Brooklyn Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 108-107. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, center, goes up for a dunk against Brooklyn Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 108-107. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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.

@joelembiid goes all out to try & save it!

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@joelembiid goes all out to try & save it! by nba

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."

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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.

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Bill Self considers Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins KU’s next generation of all-stars

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (21) goes up for a dunk against Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (21) goes up for a dunk against Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

For years Paul Pierce carried with him in and out of every arena the title of best Kansas basketball player in the NBA. Those days, obviously, are over, with Pierce playing seldom minutes off the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench in his 19th season.

KU coach Bill Self, though, has a pretty good idea who will start representing the Jayhawks in all-star games to come, now that Pierce won’t be able to add to his 10 career appearances.

During a recent airing of “Hawk Talk,” Self’s radio show with host Brian Hanni, the 14th-year Kansas coach said “possibly” twins Marcus and Markieff Morris could one day reach an all-star level. However, Self had another pair of his pupils in mind.

“But the reality is the best two shots we have to be perennial all-stars would be Jo (Joel Embiid), and of course Andrew (Wiggins),” the coach said.

Self shared he checks box scores daily to keep up with all the ’Hawks in the NBA. The coach couldn’t help but notice Philadelphia’s Embiid has a shot to join Wiggins as a Rookie of the Year from KU.

“I think it’d be great. I think Jo can definitely win it if he plays enough, you know. ’Cause he’s gonna end up averaging 20 and close to 10 — pretty good for a rookie,” Self said. “But the bottom line is are they gonna allow him to play enough to win an award that big.”

After Embiid missed two complete seasons due to serious complications with a foot injury, the Sixers have eased their 7-footer into the NBA grind. So far the 22-year-old phenom from Cameroon has looked the part of a future franchise cornerstone, and averaged 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while playing 23.5 minutes in 15 of Philly’s 23 games.

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Though Self didn’t say it, Embiid actually is the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year, even with his minutes restrictions (currently up to 28 a game). The big man’s college coach claimed he doesn’t know what will happen with the rest of the season for the Sixers’ star in the making. But Self called his former center “smart” and improving, before providing some evidence.

“He threw a little temper tantrum when they took him out the other day ’cause he was over his minute limit and he couldn’t get a chance to play in overtime and he kicked the chair. But at least he kicked it with his good foot,” Self joked. “So, I mean, that was a positive.”

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But seriously, folks. While many great college players have come and gone during Self’s tenure in Lawrence, he still thoroughly enjoys keeping up with the exploits of two players he barely spent any time coaching: his one-and-dones who became two of the top three picks in the 2014 draft.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, drives on Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, drives on Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Wiggins, now 22 games into his third year as a pro, is averaging a career-high 22.4 points and making 37.6% of his 3-pointers (also a personal best).

“To me it is so much fun watchin' those guys play, what they can do,” Self said. “Wiggs has had — he had 47. I mean 47 in an NBA game. Think about that. And then there were some games when he was here when, good gosh, it was like pullin’ teeth to get him to be aggressive enough to score double figures some games. But the light has come on with him. It’s so much fun to see.”

Thursday night in a nationally televised game against his hometown team of Toronto, the young Canadian scored 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting in a Minnesota loss.

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While Wiggins at times still draws criticism for not asserting himself more consistently on the court, Self said Embiid doesn’t have that problem.

“Jo’s got a nasty streak to him,” Self explained. “I think that’s really gonna benefit him as far as when he gets totally turned loose and he can play 35 or 40 minutes a game… I mean, think about it: he’s averagin’ 20 a game and he’s only playin’ 22 minutes a game. I mean he’s capable of puttin' up some big numbers. So it’ll be fun for them to watch.”

Four of Philadelphia’s five victories have come on nights when Embiid plays. The organization continues to keep him from participating in both ends of back-to-back nights as the medical staff maintains a watchful eye on what looks to be the franchise’s most important player since Allen Iverson. The Sixers are 1-7 without Embiid and 4-11 with him in the lineup.

Thursday night in a Philly road win over Anthony Davis and New Orleans, Embiid put up 14 points, 4 blocks and 7 rebounds. His swat on a Davis drive to the basket reminded everyone who saw it of just how dominant the 22-year-old big could one day become.

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As obvious as Embiid’s and Wiggins’ talents are, Self didn’t stop there when discussing marquee Kansas players for The Association. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, Self expects another Jayhawk entering the NBA ranks to make some lucky franchise better, following the 2017 draft.

“And then Josh (Jackson) is gonna get drafted high. Hopefully Josh can play himself into that, as well,” Self said of attaining all-star status.

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League-leading 3-point shooter Andrew Wiggins barely shoots from downtown on way to 47

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the basket and is fouled by Los Angeles Lakers center Timofey Mozgov (20) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the basket and is fouled by Los Angeles Lakers center Timofey Mozgov (20) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

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.

Andrew Wiggins' shot chart — 47 points vs. Lakers (Nov. 13, 2016)
[LA = league average | DST = shot distribution]

Andrew Wiggins' shot chart — 47 points vs. Lakers (Nov. 13, 2016) [LA = league average | DST = shot distribution]

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.

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Andrew Wiggins — Not just a dunker anymore?

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Justin Hamilton (41) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Justin Hamilton (41) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

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Joel Embiid instant fan favorite in Philly, where he scored 20 in debut

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, right, shoots the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, defending during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Thunder won 103-97. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, right, shoots the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, defending during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Thunder won 103-97. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

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.

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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.

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Counting Down the Most Interesting KU Players to Watch This NBA Season

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 2: Numbers 10 through 6

— Part 3: Numbers 5 through 1

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this NBA season — Part 3

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).

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 2: Numbers 10 through 6

No. 5: Markieff Morris — Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards' Markieff Morris plays against the Cleveland Cavaliers during an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Washington Wizards' Markieff Morris plays against the Cleveland Cavaliers during an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

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

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris (13) tries to go to the basket against Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll, center, and Jonas Valanciunas during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris (13) tries to go to the basket against Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll, center, and Jonas Valanciunas during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

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

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, right, drives to the basket as Los Angeles Clippers guard Raymond Felton tries to fight through a screen during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 92-89. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, right, drives to the basket as Los Angeles Clippers guard Raymond Felton tries to fight through a screen during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 92-89. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

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

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Minnesota won 124-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Minnesota won 124-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates after scoring against the Miami Heat during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates after scoring against the Miami Heat during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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.

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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.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this NBA season — Part 2

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 move to Nos. 10-6. A couple of these former Kansas stars are entering the primes of their career and poised to make real impacts as key reserves.

Another’s days in The Association are numbered, one is attempting to finally establish himself and the other is just getting his feet wet in the NBA.

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 3: Numbers 5 through 1

No. 10: Tarik Black — Los Angeles Lakers

New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

After he went undrafted in 2014, who would have thought Tarik Black would be in the league two years later, let alone playing a crucial reserve role for one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet?

True, this is not the Showtime Lakers of the glory 1980s nor the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 15 years ago. At best, L.A. is a young team building toward what it hopes can become another era of title chases. Those days, if they return, are years away. For now Black will try and be a building block for the future, along with young recent lottery picks such as D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.

If you watched the 6-foot-9 center play at KU, you know his game: utilize that bulk in the paint to defend and rebound, work hard, finish strong. Those characteristics already have turned Black into a bit of a fan favorite and secured him a guaranteed contract for this season.

Black apparently wasn’t valued by former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who only played him 12.7 minutes a game last year, but Black seems to be in a better situation with Luke Walton taking over, and he’ll back up L.A.’s starting center, Timofey Mozgov.

No. 9: Paul Pierce — Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, takes the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, takes the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

This is it for Paul Pierce. His 19th NBA season will be his last. And, realistically, at 39 years old, there is only so much the former perennial all-star’s legs will allow him to do on the basketball court at this point.

We won’t see “The Truth” take over fourth quarters like he so often did for Boston in his 15 seasons with the Celtics. Last year with the Clippers, Pierce only played 18.1 minutes a game and scored 6.1 points — both by far career lows. Though a future hall of famer, Pierce has reached a point where the Clippers are better off playing guys such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and, at times, Wesley Johnson at small forward in their otherwise superb starting lineup.

The intrigue in watching Pierce play this season comes from knowing it’s his last. What does he have left in that tank? Will he play better this year than last, knowing he can give it all and spend the rest of his life resting?

You know he’s going to have a night or two when he catches fire and looks like vintage Pierce for a stretch, and that will be fun to see, as will the tributes he gets from various organizations as he plays in visiting arenas for the final time.

Here’s one date you’ll want to mark on your calendar for the Clippers: Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the final time Pierce plays in front of a Boston crowd that adores the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.

No. 8: Cole Aldrich — Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets forward Jarnell Stokes (12) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 105-88. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets forward Jarnell Stokes (12) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 105-88. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Last season, while playing with Pierce in L.A., Cole Aldrich established himself as a valuable reserve center in the NBA. Even while playing only 13.3 minutes a game, the burly 6-foot-11 Aldrich routinely made a positive impact in the paint as a rebounder and rim protector and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, while converting 59.6% of his shot attempts.

Aldrich’s best pro season to date came at an ideal time, too, with the big man hitting the free agent market this past summer. He signed with his hometown Timberwolves, one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises for three years and $22 million.

Now 27 years old, Aldrich gets to take his enforcer role to Minnesota’s second unit. When the team’s young star Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng aren’t in the game to control the paint, it will be up to Aldrich to make sure the T’wolves’ interior defense doesn’t experience much of a drop-off.

Minnesota is expected to become one of the more exciting teams in the league to follow, and for KU fans, there is no better bandwagon to hop onto, with Aldrich teaming up with fellow Jayhawks Brandon Rush and Andrew Wiggins.

No. 7: Thomas Robinson — Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings' Skal Labissiere fight for a rebound during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Lakers won 103-84. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings' Skal Labissiere fight for a rebound during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Lakers won 103-84. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

We don’t know how much — or how little — former KU star Thomas Robinson will play during his first season with the Lakers. Honestly, it seems another Jayahwk on this list, Black, will feature far more prominently in L.A.’s plans.

Robinson, playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, didn’t even know during the preseason whether he’d make the team’s roster. So he has a long way to go before breaking into the rotation. The months ahead seem intriguing for Robinson, though, because this is his sixth team in five seasons. Organization after organization has passed on retaining the backup power forward. Will the Lakers do the same? Will they even keep him around for the entire season?

The answers to those questions have a lot to do with how the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old Robinson approaches his place in the roster hierarchy. The Lakers have far more invested in bigs Julius Randle, Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr. and Black than Robinson. He’ll have to prove himself more deserving of playing time than one or two of his frontcourt teammates to feature prominently on this young team building for the future.

It might take an injury to one of those other post players for Robinson to get a long look from Walton and his staff. How will Robinson respond when his chance comes? That’s what will be compelling to observe. He has yet to live up to his position as a lottery pick — will this be the year he finally does?

No. 6: Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dunks during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dunks during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

A year ago, appropriately, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked like a 20-year-old rookie not quite skilled enough to make a sustainable impact on an NBA floor.

Now in his second season with Washington, Oubre, who will turn 21 in December, is starting to fit in much better. Whether that’s the result of learning from his first-year struggles, the Wizards hiring a new head coach in Scott Brooks or a combination of the two, look for the 6-foot-7 lefty’s production to spike upward in Year 2.

Say goodbye to the days of Oubre playing only 10 minutes and averaging 3.7 points. Though still playing a reserve role, behind Otto Porter Jr., Oubre looked better suited to contribute during the preseason. He played 25.5 minutes a game for D.C. this past month in exhibitions, and scored 13.1 points while making 49.2% of his field goals.

To take the next step in his career, Oubre will have to develop a better 3-point shot. He only made 25 of 79 last season (31.6%). During the preseason, it didn’t appear a drastic improvement is coming in the months ahead, as Oubre shot 6-for-17 (35.3%) from downtown.

Still, it seems Washington is far more interested in utilizing Oubre's growing skill set now than when he was a rookie.

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