It is no longer a viable option to ignore the looming shadow wrought by the leviathan hype of Joel Embiid.

Embiid has been many things since the Philadelphia 76ers — under the guidance of Sam Hinkie — drafted him in 2014 with the third overall pick. Icon of promise. A regrettable tease of what could have been. The unfulfilled future. An urban legend.

Workout reports and six-second clips of Embiid dunking or hitting hook shots on his bad foot were like rare unreleased rap tracks or bootleg live performances of jam bands. They were poured over, analyzed, gawked at.

“Look at that footwork!”

“Does he look overweight?”

And always, “When is he going to play?”

The future is always happening, but Embiid never did. He was drafted with concerns about his back and foot, wasn’t able to recover from surgery in time for the first season, then suffered setback after setback. Two years after he was first drafted as the player with the highest ceiling, and after the Sixers have carefully managed his recovery to the smallest detail, Embiid is maybe, finally, possibly, going to play.

It’s like hearing news that an asteroid will hit the earth. Sure, it could happen, but until you actually see the thing blot out the sun, you’re going to continue worrying about your fantasy team and what to make for dinner (or relevant and serious world events if you’re that kind of enlightened person).

This is different, however. From the horse’s mouth:

Maybe he was just paraphrasing, or shooting cliches, but given how many times Embiid has been asked about his health, that’s hard to believe. There are other signs. Embiid was constantly around the Sixers at Summer League, laughing and joking with teammates including rookie Ben Simmons. And Embiid’s comment on being 100 percent came Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. This is the first year the Sixers have started using Embiid in promotional events or emails for ticket holders. They’ve been very careful not to falsely present Embiid if there was a question of whether he would actually play for the team.

They’ve made that jump, and it’s significant. Coach Brett Brown told Zach Lowe this week that Embiid is “on track” to play in the preseason, which means the timeline for him to be ready for training camp remains in place. Every time you write about Embiid, you want to cross your fingers, rub a rabbit’s foot, and avoid jinxing the situation at all. It’s one reason I criticized the drafting of Embiid back in 2014, in combination with the trade that sent Philly’s pick to Orlando for their own pick back and later the rights to Dario Saric who is also set to come over from Europe this season.

But it’s hard to argue against Embiid based on talent, if healthy.

Embiid was a monster at Kansas. When the first Olajuwon comparisons surfaced, there was a natural skepticism; that’s a pretty lofty comparison. But it really was apt. His post moves and footwork were nearly flawless and his touch (with both hands) was ridiculous:

And his mobility, much the same. This is very reminiscent of early Olajuwon:

Embiid’s health was a massive red flag before his draft. Teams were scrambling to get a hold on a medical report detailing his condition. It wasn’t just that Embiid had injuries, it was the specific injury concerns — stress fractures in his back and foot– that for a big man is considered devastating. So the concern over his health is going to linger. Just because he manages to make it to training camp or through a preseason or into the starting lineup for the Sixers opener in October vs. the Thunder doesn’t mean those injuries aren’t going to resurface.

Greg Oden came all the way back from his knee injuries, only to then have it taken away, and he never recovered. There are cautionary tales.

But Joel Embiid is about to be an actual NBA player, and if he scrapes the ceiling of what he’s capable of, no one’s going to be laughing at the “punchline” of the NBA and the 76ers anymore.

Source: CBS Sports / It’s finally time to start talking about Joel Embiid as an NBA player