Joel Embiid’s Future an ‘Underrated Bit of Drama’ So Far This Season

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Joel Embiid is used to things resting on his shoulders for the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite the presence of Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, and past stars like Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, the Sixers are anchored by one player: Embiid. When he’s clicking, like was the case Sunday night against the Jazz, few players can slow him down. And when he’s off the floor, as was the case during last season’s heartbreaking postseason defeat to the Miami Heat, the Sixers crater.

But there’s another team that might desperately need Embiid. Well, to be fair, all 29 teams in the NBA probably would love to have Embiid on their roster (except the Bulls, which Embiid contractually owns). But the team most in need of Embiid’s services can’t be found on League Pass.

No, the team in dire straits without Embiid is none other than Team USA. See, Embiid has quite the decision to make: he has both French and American citizenship, both of which he acquired this summer. That makes him eligible to play for either national team, which is a currently under-the-radar story, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

“That’s why it was quite newsworthy that Joel Embiid became an American citizen earlier this year, and his national team recruitment is an underrated bit of drama leading up to the summer of 2024. Embiid also holds French citizenship and could join Gobert and Wembanyama for Paris if he was so inclined and healthy,” Windhorst wrote on Tuesday.

France Could be Nightmare Matchup for USA

As Windhorst alluded to, the biggest threat to Team USA’s basketball hegemony is France. Les Bleus finished runners-up at this year’s EuroBasket competition, led by Minnesota Timberwolves defensive force Rudy Gobert.

But France projects to get a whole lot better in a short amount of time thanks to one player: Victor Wembanyama. The phenom has yet to play a game of professional American basketball, yet he’s already earning comparisons to . . . no one. Wembanyma sports a 7’8 wingspan, so in that vein, maybe he’s an Anthony Davis. But he moves like a gazelle and shoots like its prey, so . . . Kevin Durant?

The point is, Wembanyama is on a very, very short list of young players with this much hype. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Greg Oden, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. The most recent “generational talent” type was Zion Williamson. Think of the buzz around Williamson’s lone season at Duke and then magnify it by un million.

So adding Wembanyama to a team that is already one of the best in Europe is a daunting ask. But throwing Embiid into the mix as well? Almost unfair. And it would certainly threaten Team USA’s standing as the world’s No. 1 team, a ranking it held since Nickleback’s How You Remind Me was Billboard’s top song of 2002.

The threat is even more substantial when one considers where Team USA’s weaknesses lie.

Team USA Needs Big Men

In Embiid, Gobert, and Wembanyama, France could conceivably trot out three starters who stand at seven feet or taller. At the last Olympics, Team USA had only one player of that size on its entire roster: 7’0 JaVale McGee.

This highlights a critical weakness in Team USA — a complete lack of centers. McGee isn’t even the best option at the five on a watered-down Mavericks team and shouldn’t be the best option on any national roster. B

ut the roster of potential Team USA call-ups at center for the 2024 Paris Olympics each carries their own risks. Chet Holmgren is an injury scare, though his size and frame likely make him the best matchup against Wembanyama. Jaren Jackson, Jr. is another injury concern, having only made his 2022 debut Tuesday for the Grizzlies. Jarrett Allen, while an excellent rim protector and would likely have to guard Embiid, is giving up career-average double-double against the Sixers big man.

If the Sixers landed Embiid, it would be an absolute coup. But it’s a longshot — French manager Boris Diaw said recently that he fully expects Embiid to join France.

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