If you are stuck sitting for two years waiting to see if you are going to be an NBA star or a trivia question, you had better have a sense of humor. If you are waiting to see if the two surgeries on your foot were successful, and whether you have a chance to be a household name or earn a permanent spot on an “NBA draft busts” feature, you need to be able to roll with the punches.
Sixers rookie center Joel Embiid has displayed both qualities as he has turned the Sixers from a team living in the “Dark Side” to a team that is packing arenas. He is not only the talk of the town, but the entire country.
Embiid has his own nation of fans. Virtually every home game he plays in draws chants of “M-V-P” and “Trust the Process,” a phrase used to convince fans not to lose faith over the three previous seasons of tanking.
Embiid has nicknamed himself “The Process,” as a permanent reminder of how he ended up in Philadelphia. His following is passionate and not just limited to Philadelphia.
“It has been great, it’s amazing,” Embiid said recently. “That’s something, last year, that’s something I never thought was going to happen. I never felt we would be winning so many games in a row.
“What I am trying to build, I’m trying to change the culture,” Embiid continued. ”I like to get into it with the fans. I don’t like it quiet, I play better when the fans are into it, chanting M-V-P, chanting for us. That’s what I love.”
In Boston, Celtics fans are known to take to great players on other teams like former Sixers great Julius Erving. That group, at a recent game in Boston, chanted “Trust the Process” to show its appreciation for the rookie who posted a line of 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in just 26 minutes.
“All I can say is it’s amazing,” Embiid said. “Even on the road you hear ‘Trust the Process’ chants. I feel like everybody around the world is starting to follow us and trust the process. The fans have been great. I’m glad we’re winning games for them and the city.”
The Sixers have compiled an 11-5 mark since Dec. 30 (the record does not include last night’s game against the Mavericks). They have earned that record without the services of Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick who has been out the entire season dealing with a foot injury.
One reason Embiid believes they have turned it around is head coach Brett Brown’s ability to get his team on the same page.
Early in the season, several Sixers including Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, were not shy about expressing their concerns over their playing time, the lack of it, and their roles.
But over the last few months, Embiid said Brown has been able to make it work, and with that came the wins.
“It’s good,” Embiid said. “Before the season, I had a conversation with coach (Brown). One of the main things I brought up was about everybody knowing his role and coming together, especially defensively. Everybody is bonding to the system, and we’re starting to win some games.”
The Sixers recently defeated two 30-win teams. Over the last three years, the Sixers were more likely to be down by 30 going into the fourth quarter.
The Sixers beat a healthy Toronto Raptors team 94-89, holding a squad that was averaging more than 109 points per game to well below its average.
ldquo;It’s great,” Embiid said. “That gives us a lot of confidence coming into the next game. We beat a team with the second best record in the East. It’s amazing and we’re going to keep on working. Like I said, everybody is bonding to the system and coaches. They’re doing a great job. Coach Brown, coach (Lloyd ) Pierce, coach (Billy) Lange and all the coaches, they’ve been doing their job of preparing us.Everybody has bought in and we’re playing good basketball. We’re going to try and build on that.”
Embiid was asked what people know about the Sixers now that they are having success in 2017.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Embiid said. “We’re competing, winning games and we’re playing good defense. We’ve finally found what we’re looking for. At the beginning of the season, everybody was trying to find themselves, especially me. This is just the beginning of my career, so I still have a lot to learn, and I am willing to learn. Everybody, my teammates are willing to learn. We’re just now coming together.”
Embiid has played an average of just 25.4 minutes per game after 31 games. Still, his numbers are All-star team level: 20.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks.
He was not selected to the All-Star reserves despite finishing in the top three in fan voting among centers in the East.
“Once again the popular vote didn’t matter …” he joked on his Twitter page. The 7-foot, 250-pounder will be playing in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star weekend.
Brown has been quoted as saying his Sixers are a five-year process in the works. Embiid was asked if he believes that number is wrong now that the team seems to have turned a corner.
“Definitely,” Embiid said without hesitation. “Playing games like that (Toronto, Clippers) shows it. We don’t even have Ben (Simmons) back yet, and Jah (Jahlil Okafor) hasn’t been able to get minutes, and Jah is really good. So there is a lot of talent here still waiting for their turn. I think we are closer than people think we are.”