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Pompey: Embiid on a mission to revive center position in NBA

Over the last couple of decades, the center position in the NBA has been transformed from a spot of prominence to one of almost an interchangeable part.

Over the last couple of decades, the center position in the NBA has been transformed from a spot of prominence to one of almost an interchangeable part.

Joel Embiid has studied film of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, and several other big men who went on to become Hall of Famers. He witnessed Tim Duncan lead the San Antonio Spurs to league titles.

But as Embiid prepares to play in his 13th NBA game Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the center position is no longer as glamorous as Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell made it appear. Teams are built around point-guard play, and the center's job is to not get in the way. General managers are increasingly constructing rosters that are better- suited for small-ball lineups that don't use traditional centers - if centers at all.

Embiid is determined to alter that.

"Around the league there are a lot of young dominant big men," he said, "and I think we are starting the comeback. As a big man, we want each other to be good."

The 7-foot-2, 276-pounder always thought the NBA was a big man's league even as teams were pushing point guards to the forefront.

Embiid believes that without a big man your team can't be good defensively.

"I think the big man is the main piece," he said. "Offensively, getting rebounds, and when you got a big man that can score down low and do everything [it] is always good for the team."

The 22-year-old is doing more than just voicing his opinion. He's approaching the league's other elite post players about bringing the center position back to prominence.

One of Embiid's latest discussions was with Hassan Whiteside, the Miami Heat's 7-foot center, during the final 10 seconds of Monday's Sixers-Heat game at the Wells Fargo Center. One of the NBA's best post players, Whiteside led the league in rebounds (15.1 per game) and was second in blocked shots (2.53) heading into Saturday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

"I'm totally with him, even [Jahlil] Okafor coming off the bench," Whiteside said. "It's a lot of great centers. I would say maybe two teams don't really have a center."

The Sixers actually have three quality centers in Embiid, Okafor, and Nerlens Noel.

Perhaps that's why Whiteside takes exception to hearing that the NBA is no longer a center's league.

"They don't watch basketball if they think it is not centers. I don't have a day off at the center position," he said, naming Atlanta's Dwight Howard, Detroit's Andre Drummond, and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins. "I got a really good center every night. So, I don't know where these nights off are happening."

Memphis coach David Fizdale is sort of in agreement.

He acknowledged that everybody fell in love with small-ball lineups. But Fizdale isn't so sure that dominant big men went away. He thinks the position just evolved.

"Embiid, obviously is stepping out and shooting threes," he said. "[Memphis'] Marc Gasol is stepping out and shooting threes. [Brooklyn's] Brook Lopez is shooting threes, Even Hassan is a 17-foot jump-shooter when he needs to be."

When you add that to the athleticism centers now have, Fizdale said, the position has evolved into something deadly.

"So I don't know if it ever left," he said. "I just think they've adapted."

Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson said the Sixers are ahead of the curve by not following the small-ball trend and instead playing through Embiid.

If he remains healthy, the Cameroonian could be a top-five NBA talent, regardless of position.

"Everyone in the NBA is trying to find a way to not post up," Watson said. "I think they intelligently see that they have a big who is dynamic. So they have to play out of the post."

Watson doesn't believe in following trends. By doing so, he said, you are always chasing the next team.

"So I think they are ahead of the curve with what they are doing," he said. "Basketball is going to change, again."

And Embiid is determined to make it happen.