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Joel Embiid Is the Small-Sample-Size, Preseason, 15-Minute NBA MVP

In a brief appearance against Brooklyn, the oft-injured Philly center played like the generational talent Sixers fans hope he is

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

You can’t overdramatize finally seeing something long in the making; ask the guys in charge of the Avatar franchise. For the first time in 257 days, Joel Embiid played competitive NBA basketball. (In Embiid recovery years, that’s only two weeks.) The 7-footer made his preseason debut against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, not even a week after he was cleared for five-on-five ball, and just two days after signing a massive five-year, $148 million maximum extension.

NBA Preview 2017

But by the time he had clocked nine minutes in his first preseason game on Wednesday, he had racked up 19 points and seven rebounds, and questions about his health and shape had slipped away. Philly fans wondered how flexible Embiid’s reported minutes restriction would be. The Sixers wondered how to pay him more. Dirk Nowitzki wondered how the TV turned into a mirror:

Before last season began, the hype surrounding Embiid — who missed his first two NBA campaigns with foot injuries — was very much rooted in the unknown. What could the Kansas product be?

Embiid’s 31-game run last season was a miniseries in minutes played, but a blockbuster in terms of production. The center placed third in Rookie of the Year voting nearly three months removed from his last court appearance. In the most self-contradictory way possible, the rookie who has missed 87.4 percent of his potential 246 games looked remarkably NBA-ready. His limited time was proof enough for Philadelphia that the wait was worth it, that his eventual contract extension would be worth it, and that the city could reclaim the Process as a serious chapter in Sixers history and not just a phrase for the rest of the basketball world to meme and pun into démodé.

Now the league knows what Embiid could be—what he already is—which right now, on a Wednesday night, is enough to get unreasonably excited about a preseason game.

He finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and a block in 15 minutes. He made it to the foul line 18 times. He hit 14 of those. He passed overtop the heads of the not-7-foot Nets to his also healthy and also (almost) 7-foot partner in the frontcourt, Ben Simmons. If you’re curious as to what they thought of Brooklyn’s defense, I’m sure [Embiid grabs mic] —

— he’ll tell you. Or show you. So much for rust.