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Joel Embiid loves Deandre Ayton’s potential

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The trash talking continues between the Sixers and Suns players, but it’s borne of mutual respect and budding rivalry

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers had their Media Day on Friday before heading on a preseason trip to play a game in China against the Dallas Mavericks.

Star center Joel Embiid had some words for Ayton, and promised that Ayton would “get his ass kicked” this season, as I’m sure you’ve already read everywhere else.

But Embiid wasn’t completely disrespectful after Rachel Nichols playfully suggested he should let Ayton play a game or two before going at him like that.

“I can see the comparison because of the potential,” Embiid said of Ayton. “He’s gonna be good.”

He doesn’t like the comparisons because he prides himself on playing both ends, offense and defense.

In his third season — his first of playing more than 31 games due to various maladies that are bad signs for 7-footers (foot, back) — Embiid posted incredible numbers: 22.9 points, 11 rebounds and often looked like a Defensive Player of the Year favorite.

“I’m not upset,” Embiid said. “I’m more mad at Chauncey for not doing his homework.”

Embiid didn’t like Chauncey Billups comparing Ayton to him on Draft night, even though they look similar in size and shape and were both highly productive in college. Fellow trash talker Draymond Green loved it.

Ayton did not respond right away — only giving withering looks to anyone who asked — but he respond a bit in August with a hand-drawn picture that looked like him dunking hard on Embiid.

But Ayton may not get a chance to dunk hard on the Sixers center quite yet. Embiid, 24, is a fully formed All-Star who some day could win both the scoring title and Defensive Player of the Year, as long as he stays healthy.

Earlier this week, Embiid’s teammate JJ Redick was on the Lowe Post with ESPN’s Zach Lowe and talked about Embiid.

He said the Sixers marvel at Embiid’s ability to just decide that for the next little while he was going to score on a guy every time down and the guy wasn’t going to score on him. But also that Embiid couldn’t keep that up for whole games because of the effort involved, after Lowe pointed out that Embiid went through highs and lows against Al Horford in the playoffs last year at times looking dominant and then at other times being blocked badly by Big Al.

The knocks on Embiid, despite all that All-World talent, are his health (still only played 63 games last year) and conditioning. The conditioning should be a concern because tired people are less protective of their body and more prone to injury. Embiid didn’t even play some back-to-backs last year.

Still, expect Embiid to be looking forward to their first head-to-head matchup on November 19, which is of course IN Philadelphia, and NOT on a back-to-back.

Embiid clowning on Ayton, and Ayton responding in kind is good theater. It’s good for the Suns organization, and good for the game of basketball.

Will Ayton, barely 20 years old, get his ass kicked 16 games into his rookie season by one of the very best players in the game?

Probably.

Will Ayton crawl into a shell from which he will never return if that happens.

Ummm, have you met this guy? I have, and I don’t see Ayton backing down from anything. Ever.

That’s why Embiid is going after him. You don’t see Embiid saying stuff about Mo Bamba, who both Embiid and Ayton massively dunked on in exhibition scrimmages in recent years. Or Jaren Jackson Jr.

Ayton might get his ass kicked in game one, in Philly, but Ayton won’t cower and I expect he will use that as fuel for the next time and the time after that. Ayton’s best summer league game was against Orlando’s Mo Bamba (who’d previously had a 4-0 record against Ayton in various mediums) and Jonathan Isaac. His second best was against the Kings’ #2 pick Marvin Bagley III. In college, he dominated the game right after that scandal hit.

Embiid knows Ayton will be a good player, or he wouldn’t waste time going after him.

“I’ve watched him play. He’s got a lot of work to do,” Embiid said of Ayton. “But he’s got a lot of potential. He’s gonna be really good.”

Let’s see how Deandre responds on Suns Media Day on Monday, in TWO SHORT DAYS. You can bet he will be asked questions about it.

Before any matchups against Embiid, though, Ayton starts his regular season NBA career in three weeks against fellow Rookie of the Year front-runner Luka Doncic, who yesterday was billed as the power forward of the present for the Dallas Mavericks. Doncic will likely start the season with Dennis Smith Jr at point and vets Wesley Matthew, Harrison Barnes and Deandre Jordan.

Dirk Nowitzki is expected to come off the bench. Since the same is likely true of Tyson Chandler, and considering that Dirk played center last year due to self-described “movement issues”, it will be fun to watch the Suns and Mavs second units with Nowitzki and Chandler going head to head.