One can find evidence of Joel Embiid’s defensive prowess just about anywhere. Dig into the numbers and you’ll find that he completely changes the game around him, elevating the Sixers’ coverage with his presence alone. Watch him bat away his opponent’s shots with ease and you’ll understand how he became one of the NBA’s most intimidating rim protectors in just his second season. Embiid is a menace. For as mythical as his offensive game may be, Embiid is just as rare a defensive specimen—if not more so. The most compelling evidence comes through in the absurdity that swirls around him. Wherever Embiid goes, the ridiculous follows. Otherwise confident scorers lose their nerve. Polished veterans seemingly forget their fundamentals. Perhaps they’ve been reading his stats, which include 1.8 blocks per game, a top 10 defensive rating and more contested two-pointers than all but four players in the league. The sheer panic that comes in having an agile, intuitive seven-footer looming over a play saps the best basketball players in their world of their superpowers. It’s as if they are so concerned with tracking Embiid’s shadow that they forget, in that moment, who they are. See below just what we’re talking about:
No other player in the league makes his competition look quite so foolish. Those wild attempts, desperate passes, rushed moves, and excessive pump fakes speak volumes—and they’re the reason why Embiid is such a masterful troll. Opponents can respond to the All-Star center’s prodding trash talk however they like. But even as they fire back, their play signals an instinctive, flinching respect.
Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said after Tuesday’s 120-112 win over the Thunder that his new-look team “exceeded [his] expectations”. Lue also expressed his belief that the flurry of pre-deadline trades made by GM Koby Altman changed the dynamic of the team: “I think we’ve got to get back to being the hunters and not the hunted. These young guys we have, able to shoot, drive or pass it, adds a different element to our team. They’re playing free, having fun”. The Cavs acquired Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., while shipping out Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Isaiah Thomas. Cleveland is 2-0 since its new acquisitions joined the team, as it previously routed the Boston Celtics 121-99 in a road game Sunday. LeBron James led the way with 37 points in Tuesday’s win over the Thunder, but all four additions contributed to the triumph as well. Hood and Clarkson each netted 14 points, Nance finished with 13 points and Hill added seven points and four assists. There were significant questions about the Cavaliers’ chemistry and their willingness to play selfless basketball before the trades, but Lue doesn’t view that as a problem any longer: “The biggest thing is Clarkson finished the game. George Hill during the timeout was talking to him and happy. Tristan [Thompson] is happy for Larry Nance. That’s what we’ve got to have. If you want to win you’ve got to sacrifice. With our team that we have, whoever’s playing well is going to finish the game. They understand that and it’s all about winning with this group”. Eight players spent at least 23 minutes on the court Tuesday, which may give the Cavs one of the NBA’s deepest, most versatile groups. All-Star Kevin Love is out with a broken hand, but his eventual return will add another dimension to a team that was floundering before Altman’s bold moves.
The Rockets plan on releasing swingman Troy Williams in order to make room for Joe Johnson. Williams showed a little promise last season as a guy who could score, as he averaged 9.7 points per game on 50 percent shooting in six games and three starts, and it was expected he’d have the chance to crack the back end of the rotation, especially with how many injuries the Rockets have suffered through this season. But he never did get much of an opportunity on the year, moving back and forth between the G-League and only playing in four games. He averaged 4 minutes per contest in those appearances, scoring just a little over a point per game. With Johnson coming aboard for a playoff run, Williams clearly became expandable. Williams is guaranteed $614,000 for the year, and the Rockets have several options for dealing with that money. If the Rockets can come out of this with a ring, any additional cheddar they’d need to pay would clearly be worth it.
When the Nets traded for Jahlil Okafor back on December 7, he had played a total of 25 minutes for the 76ers, having fallen behind Joel Embiid and Richuan Holmes in their rotation. Jah was free, finally. Since then, the Nets have been patient with the former overall No. 3 pick, working him into their system and improving his conditioning after months of sitting on the bench. He’s been patient, too, getting minutes here and there, showing flashes of his potential but not being consistent. So what gives? The 6’11” big man will be a free agent this summer and so, they have another 24 games to figure out what they want to do with the 22-year-old.
Brian Lewis spoke with Okafor and Kenny Atkinson, trying to unravel what’s become a bit of a mystery as to when Okafor should play and for how long. Okafor, of course, wants to play, but he’s being diplomatic about it: “Getting on the floor is very important. As a basketball player we all want to be on the court. My minutes have been fluctuating up and down, but the coaches say it’s nothing on my end”. Indeed, Atkinson said one issue has been the Nets going down so fast so often that he’s had to go small when he didn’t want to: “It’s us getting down and having to go small. When you go down 25 you have to speed the game up, get more shooting, so he gets caught up in that. Hopefully [we’ll be better] and we can get him some more minutes”. Okafor also admits: “In one game, Detroit, I got in foul trouble, so that is on me. Then New Orleans, we were getting our [butts] kicked the entire game until mid-third quarter. But obviously I want to get on the floor, to do whatever I can to get on the floor and have the coaches have the utmost trust in me”. Okafor has professed his love for Brooklyn and it may just take a summer to work everything out. It’s unlikely the Nets will have much competition for him, which is good because under the terms of the CBA, they can only pay him $6.2 million over one year. Everyone’s protected in that way and so we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the season and free agency works out.