The play of Joel Embiid, not Ben Simmons, matters most this season

Kyle Phillippi

More than two years have passed.

All that’s known about Joel Embiid remains the same: He can dunk. He can step back and hit 3-pointers. He has grown a couple of inches. He’s slimmed down. He looks like an imposing player.

Until training camp begins, the unknown outweighs the known.

Embiid was selected by the 76ers with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Injuries have derailed the big man and he has yet to don a Sixers uniform.

But this is all likely to change very soon. That has to make this passionate fan base very excited.

With all the anticipation surrounding Ben Simmons, it’s Embiid that truly matters the most. The center from Kansas will be the catalyst in the middle and he has skills which project into an All-Star caliber player.

But Embiid has to show it all on the court. Practicing 1-on-1, shooting free throws at PCOM or rehabbing in the pool mean very little if it all doesn’t translate into the 2016-17 regular season and beyond.

“I feel 100 percent and ready to get started,” Embiid told reporters at the Sixers’ recent Beach Bash in Avalon, New Jersey. “My summer has been great. We have been working on a lot this summer and I got a chance to play a little bit against the guys, and it has been going great.”

Embiid’s most recent procedure was a bone graft surgery on his right foot. Expect the Sixers to remain cautious with Embiid’s minutes in training camp and the regular season.

Plain and simple, Embiid needs to play. He needs to show that he can withstand the pounding. This is the No. 3 overall pick, a potential franchise cornerstone. It has been wise to hold him out.

From here, Embiid’s progress is even more crucial.

“I think they are going to start me slow, but I am the type of guy, I learn fast,” Embiid told reporters. “I haven’t played in two years but once I get it, I will be pretty good.”

Embiid’s last actual game action came all the way back on March 1, 2014 when he posted a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds in a seven-point loss to Oklahoma State.

Competing against NBA big men will be a whole different challenge. And he’ll have to deal with the mental challenge of not worrying about his previous injuries.

No one really knows how Embiid will respond to the physical and mental challenges. What seemed like a risky pick at the time could turn out to be a steal. Or it could be a bust.

It’s finally time to see what transpires.

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