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Game Preview: Suns face The Process and the process

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The Phoenix Suns host the Philadelphia 76ers and star center Joel Embiid tonight.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (8-21) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (7-21)

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: FoxSports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM ArizonaSports


Despite having the league’s worst record for years now, the Sixers (7-21) have somehow scraped up a three-game winning streak over the Phoenix Suns (8-21).

In their last matchup, the Sixers roared out to a big lead behind Joel Embiid’s great first quarter and then kept the lead behind Nik Stauskas’ clutch shot making throughout the rest of the game.

Since then, Nerlens Noel has returned from injury to jam up the center rotation and create friction between the team’s young big men, fueled by fans’ love for Noel over Okafor.

Embiid seems to have hitched his wagon to Noel at the expense of Okafor lately as well, though he’d previously cited his friendship with Okafor as a good reason to play them together.

The Sixers

As I mentioned earlier this week, the Sixers are actually playing older than a team in year four of their massive rebuild should be. That’s been partially due to injury. Super-rookie Joel Embiid (22) and Jalil Okafor (21) have been on minutes-restrictions all season, and Nerlens Noel (22) has just now begun to play this season after another knee surgery. But these are all centers, and the fact remains that the Sixers don’t have any future stars at any of the other four positions on the court.

I doubt anyone imagined them trotting out a wing rotation counting on Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Gerald Henderson for points. Only Nik Stauskas counts as a prospect, and no one thinks he’s got an All-Star game in his future.

Sixers-playing-age

Let’s talk about the centers again. As much as a fan would like to imagine Embiid, Okafor and Noel sharing the two big spots all game long, none are built for today’s stretch four position.

Sure, Embiid can step out to take threes offensively, and is nimble enough to move on defense, he’s just too big to hold his own all the time at the power forward spot while Noel or Okafor clog the middle. And more than anything, Embiid doesn’t BELONG at power forward. A good team finds a way to play their best player at his natural position.

So one of Noel or Okafor will have to move on while Embiid becomes an All-Star center. New GM Bryan Colangelo (he’s been on the job “only” a year now) has said all along he needs to trade someone but has yet to do it. Now he’s blaming the prior GM for his dilemma, even a year later.

Colangelo has a problem. Noel is an injury waiting to happen, while Okafor simply does not fit today’s NBA. He is a matador on defense and a poor man’s Greg Monroe or Al Jefferson offensively. While both will have 10-year NBA careers, no NBA team will want to give up big value to acquire them.

Noel might fit well in Phoenix next to Chriss/Bender, but the Suns already have Alex Len and Tyson Chandler eating minutes and the Sixers wouldn’t want to swap Noel for another center.

The Sixers do have one other man-of-the-future at forward. 22-year old rookie Dario Saric has not quite set the world on fire this year, but still is getting 23 minutes per game and posting a 9/6 line with it. His 38% overall shooting percentage leaves something to be desired, but he has a good future as a combo forward with a long-range shooting stroke.

Okay, enough of me panning the Sixers. Let’s stop talking about The Process of teambuilding and start talking about ‘The Process’ of Joel Embiid.

As a rookie, Embiid is posting nearly 18 points and 8 rebounds in only 20 minutes per game so far while bringing very good defensive skills to the table. The man is a monster, and the only thing holding him back is his health. He missed two full seasons with foot issues, and is still on a minutes-restriction, but boy oh boy is he a load.

A quick look at Embiid’s splits and game logs show you that he’s just a supernova waiting to happen. However, the following is interesting:

  • He’s played in 16 home games but only 3 road games. Even this month, he’s sat out two of their three road games.
  • Overall, his minutes have gone from 19 in October to 23 in November to 26 in December
  • In December, he’s playing a very consistent 24-28 minutes per night with points totals ranging from 9-33 and rebound totals from 4-10
  • His production is leveling off despite the additional minutes, thanks to Noel and Okafor getting more minutes as well

Come to watch Joel Embiid grow before our eyes tonight (assuming he doesn’t sit out because it’s a road game).

The Suns

Our favorite local NBA team takes the court with yet another chance to begin shifting rookie versus veterans minutes distribution.

Let’s see if the draw of playing an equally rebuilding team like the Sixers is enough to convince coach Earl Watson to play Dragan Bender against Dario Saric, and maybe even give Tyler Ulis some minutes against veteran Sergio Rodriguez. Or heck, how about giving Marquese Chriss a few more minutes too.

“We have two dynamic 4-5s who need to develop now in Marquese and Dragan in order for us to have a chance later in the season,” Watson said to Zach Lowe of ESPN recently.

Let’s see if Watson starts turning that tide.

Tonight would be a good start.

Prediction

I think the Suns HAVE to finally break the Sixers curse against them, and will post a solid victory tonight.

I just hope it’s behind the young guys, rather than super-games from Chandler or Tucker.