“Dominant,” Brown said.
Embiid was harder on himself.
“I feel like I’m still behind,” he said. “But I feel like with repetition, it’s going to come.”
For success-starved fans of the 76ers, it must have been both glorious and nerve-racking to watch Embiid eviscerate the Nets. For every brilliant play that he made — and there were more than a few, including the 40-footer that he swished during a dead ball — there was a more minor-key moment when he flirted with danger. Was that a slight grimace after he took a fall in the second quarter? An almost imperceptible limp after a tumble in the third?
Basketball is a physical sport, and contact is unavoidable. But forgive those fans who would prefer that Embiid cover himself with bubble wrap.
Brown understands. He used the word “reckless” to describe Embiid’s Tonka Truck style — “He doesn’t know any other way to play,” Brown said — but expressed hope that Embiid would settle into a more conservative frame of mind once his playing time is more consistent, an imposing prospect for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Still, Brown said it would be a mistake to talk about Embiid as if he had already arrived as a fully formed colossus. He has a chance to be great. A chance.
“But it’s at its infant stages,” Brown said, adding: “The 7-foot-2, we get. The 200-whatever pounds, we get. But he can shoot a 3. He can shoot free throws. He can post up. He can face up. It’s just a very potent offensive package that people have to game plan, and we see the impact he makes on the defensive end. He’s all over the place.”
After he was drafted by the 76ers, Embiid 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. He averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes a game before the team announced in March that he needed season-ending knee surgery.
But based largely on his limited body of work — those 31 games — the 76ers this week signed Embiid to a $146.5 million contract extension, albeit one that gives the team some protection if Embiid reinjures himself. In any case, Embiid is worth the risk.
“Pure talent,” the second-year forward Dario Saric said. “He’s got the talent to be one of the best in this game.”
Embiid sees room for growth. He wants to trim some weight from his 285-pound frame. Against the Nets, he said, his legs felt heavy. He also assessed his defense as “pretty bad.” He gave up a couple of dunks, which he considers inexcusable for a player his size.
More important, Embiid is forming chemistry with his teammates. On Wednesday, he played alongside Ben Simmons for the first time. Simmons, the top overall pick in the 2016 draft, missed all of last season with a foot injury. Together, they looked fearsome. Embiid even found Simmons cutting behind the defense for a baseline dunk.
“Just having him out there draws so much attention,” Simmons said. “No one can really stop him.”
Caught between Embiid’s injury-marred past and his promising future, all the 76ers can do is wait, watch and hope for the best.