NEW YORK • Brett Brown, who has persevered through four seasons as the Philadelphia 76ers coach, has reason for optimism on the cusp of his fifth National Basketball Association (NBA) season with the team.
Much of that has to do with Joel Embiid, a big man who can do everything at both ends and who has the potential to become one of the most dominant players in the league - if only he can make it to court.
The 2.13m Cameroonian centre has been beset by injuries since the 76ers selected him as the third overall pick in the 2014 draft.
He missed his first two seasons because of two operations to repair a bone in his right foot. He made his much-awaited debut last season, appearing in 31 games, averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes before knee surgery ended his season in March.
The 76ers this week signed him to a US$146.5 million (S$197.7 million) five-year contract extension, albeit one that gives the team some protection if he re-injures himself.
In any case, the team are convinced Embiid is worth the risk.
SMOTHERING PRESENCE AT BOTH ENDS
It's at its infant stages. But he can shoot a three-pointer, free throws. He can post up, face up. It's a very offensive package and we see the impact he makes on the defensive end. He's all over the place.
BRETT BROWN, Philadelphia 76ers coach, believes his Cameroonian centre Joel Embiid has all the tools in his locker to become a leading NBA big man.
When healthy, he has near unlimited potential, from the ability to win the Defensive Player of the Year award to pushing his scoring average into the high 20s.
He has an easy jumper from three-point range - something every team seeks in its big men now - and is capable of going to work on the low block and scoring effectively. Combine that with his elite defensive ability, and the 76ers get a potential top-10 NBA player.
This calibre of player does not come along very often, and especially not one with an incredibly likeable personality as well.
Off the hard wood, the charming and gregarious 23-year-old has used his social media savvy to become one of the NBA's most popular players.
The face of the remade 76ers has the entire league curious to see him line up next to the top overall picks in the last two NBA drafts, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
For success-starved fans of the 76ers, they had a preview in a pre-season game at the Brooklyn Nets last Wednesday, forming chemistry with his team-mates.
But it must have been both glorious and nerve-racking to watch Embiid eviscerate the hosts in a 133-114 rout.
He had 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists while playing only 14min 45sec.
"Dominant," Brown said. The player was harder on himself. "I'm still behind," he said. "But I feel like with repetition, it's going to come."
For every brilliant play he made, there was a more minor-key moment when he flirted with danger.
Basketball is a physical sport, and contact is unavoidable. But forgive fans who would prefer that Embiid cover himself with bubble wrap.
Brown said it was premature to talk about him as if he had already arrived as a fully-formed colossus.
"It's at its infant stages. But he can shoot a three-pointer, free throws. He can post up, face up. It's a very offensive package and we see the impact he makes on the defensive end. He's all over the place," Brown added.
Caught between Embiid's injury-marred past and his promising future, all the 76ers can do is hope for the best - that they can transform into an Eastern Conference powerhouse.
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST