Dwelling on the past will do one no good, but as Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid get ready for their first of many duels on Wendesday night, it’s hard not to think about what could have been if the Sixers took the Latvian superstar in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Sam Hinkie -- perhaps feeling the pressure from ownership, fans, and media alike -- opted to select Duke center Jahlil Okafor with the 3rd pick, leaving Porzingis to fall into the hands of the New York Knicks at four. To Hinkie’s credit, nobody ever imagined the 21-year-old from Liepāja could be this good this quickly, and in just two seasons Porzingis has already cemented himself as one of the NBA’s premier players. But the decision to select Okafor, who at the time was deemed the “safe” option, over Porzingis is something that will likely haunt the franchise for many years to come.
The outlook of the Sixers themselves is still tremendous. Selecting Porzingis in 2015 may have prevented the team from being able to take Ben Simmons in last year’s draft, and the team has enough high draft picks in the pipeline to put together a dominating team. But being able to pair Porzingis with Embiid, two giants with remarkable skill sets, could have made for the most revolutionary front court the NBA has ever seen. Both of their abilities to move fluidly, score at all three levels, and block shots are pretty rare, and they easily could have brought the newly ushered in era of small ball to its knees.
Instead, the pair are now Atlantic Division foes, and will match up against each other at some point on Wednesday evening and in the future.
Porzingis, currently averaging 19.8 points while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc, is trying to carry New York through a very serious rough patch. The Knicks are losers of eight of their last nine, and have the fifth worst defensive rating in the league since Christmas Day. On top of that, Derrick Rose went AWOL before the team’s contest against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, providing an annoying distraction to a team that doesn’t need anymore problems. Rose returned to the team on Tuesday, and was given an undisclosed fine for his actions. He’s expected to start against the Sixers.
Carmelo Anthony, who was ejected from the Knicks’ blowout loss to the Pelicans, recently revealed that he’s been dealing with a “bad” shoulder injury that has required round the clock treatment. The injury is certainly showing its affect in his production. Anthony’s current PER of 18.8 is the lowest since his sophomore season, and his field goal percentage of 42.1 percent is the worst of his career.
For the Sixers, they’re riding high after winning three of their last four games. Embiid notched 20 points on 14 shots in the team’s win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, making him the first player to record 20+ points in six straight games while playing less than 30 minutessince the league began recording minutes per game. Robert Covington also chipped in a double-double against Brooklyn, and the league leader in pass deflections will likely be tasked with defending the ailing Anthony.
by Jake Pavorsky@JakePavorsky