Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid is processing

Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)(EDITORS NOTE: This image was captured using a double exposure)
Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)(EDITORS NOTE: This image was captured using a double exposure) /

The Philadelphia 76ers star has not looked like himself. His play has not been up to his all-world standard and the extroverted personality that endeared him to millions has shied away. Embiid recently shed light on his basketball and emotional speedbumps.

If you go on either of Joel Embiid’s notorious social media accounts you’ll find he has the same bio on each — PROCESSING.

When Embiid took on the nickname of “The Process” it wasn’t because its a slick sounding title or a marketing sparkplug. He did it during the darkest days of the tanking. It was his way of saying: put your faith in me, I’ll take us to the top.

Embiid put the onus on himself when the NBA intervened with the Colangelo family and the talking heads were verbally barraging the organization at every turn. When the finish line seemed furthest away, Joel Embiid bet on himself and that meant the world to quite possibly the most ridiculed fanbase in America.

Lately Embiid hasn’t looked like the player we fell in love with. His performance has dipped. Which could be attributed to several on court factors, but perhaps more notable is he seemed reserved. At times he looked joyless.

Tuesday night he gave the following explanation, after being asked about pumping up the crowd.

For the first time in his career, Joel Embiid is processing.

Joel Embiid’s stats haven’t fallen off a cliff, but they’re not indicative of proper play of the best player on a contending team. In December, he’s averaging 5.3 turnovers per game and has four games this season with a minimum of seven turnovers. His current field goal percentage and blocks per game are a career low.

Against the defensively challenged Washington Wizards, Joel Embiid had 26 and 21. Good, right? Wrong! He turned the ball over eight times and finished as a +1 in 35 minutes.

There have been roughly four games this season when Embiid has looked like the monster we’re used to watching. He was excellent in the victories over Indiana, Sacramento, Atlanta, and Boston. Embiid was efficient and forceful, while living at the foul line. The trio of great games may not have occurred versus elite teams, but those games are indicative of Embiid’s well-known ability to overwhelm teams. Embiid’s 20 and 10 games can ring hollow.

He’s the best center in the game. His impact shouldn’t be defined by the numbers. Make them feel you. Make them fear you and make people question if they even want to get in your way.

The Sixers are 18-7 and shaping up to be one of the best teams in the league and they’ve only received a handful of good games from their franchise centerpiece. He has another level to achieve this season.

Embiid won’t take the next step unless he gets his mind right and finds his groove, both on the floor and in his mind. The rim-rocking dunks and Dream-like post moves are part of why we grew to adore Embiid, but his personality sent it over the top. The shoulder shimmies and finger wagging go hand in hand with the jaw-dropping blocks and bully-ball backdowns. Embiid feeds off energy. He’s one of the few in the league that can look undeniably unstoppable.

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Embiid not being in the right state of mind isn’t hard to comprehend. He rehabbed for much of his summer. He’s still trying to find his shots on a team still learning how to gel. Being the best player, while making sure everyone else gets theirs, and learning how to be a leader, isn’t an easy task. It might take longer than we want, but Joel Embiid hasn’t figured how to consistently be the guy on this team yet. It’s a challenge he needs to master.

The core is in place and its a matter of fitting the puzzle pieces together. His fit with Al Horford may be the biggest question mark. The best minutes for each may not come alongside each other, but they need to coexist to survive.

Joel Embiid is the key to the Sixers ultimate aspiration. It doesn’t take a detective to assume some higher ups in the organization told Embiid to cut down on the antics and show more maturity. Which is fine, but Embiid and whoever told him to shape up need to meet each other in the middle. Does Embiid need to be religiously devoted to being the best version of himself? Absolutely. But should that come at the cost of him acting like the big kid he is? No.

He’s never going to be reserved and stoic like Tim Duncan, but don’t get his playful nature confused with Dwight Howard. Embiid is a 21st century star. He shows you who he is and knows how to play to the crowd. It might annoy your uncle or the radio-caller that knows exactly how to fix the Sixers, but Embiid has come too far to deviate from who he is.

This season is Joel Embiid’s most monumental challenge to date. The Sixers are a colossal mixture of confusion. They’re beating good teams, losing to bad ones, and looking weird while doing it. Embiid is at the heart of it all.

He needs to balance maturity with joy. He needs to navigate being elite in the regular season, while entering the postseason in peak condition. Unlocking his own potenital and teammates’ will take time. For the first time in his career, Joel Embiid is looking deep in the mirror and trying to correct his reflection. Only Joel Embiid can solve his conundrum.

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Rather than trust the process, Embiid needs to perfect it.