There is only so much that Joel Embiid can do physically as he rehabs his right foot following surgery to repair a broken navicular bone. He can't put pressure on the foot, he can't run, and he of course can't yet participate in any sort of contact activities.
In other words, the young center from the University of Kansas has a lot of time to fill while he is unable to play the game he has grown to love. Luckily, his head coach, Brett Brown, has no shortage of ideas of worthwhile things for his prized pick to do in his down time to help him prepare for professional play.
"We've been showing him tape of Al Jefferson, Tim Duncan, some of the great post players, getting him familiar with the rules, and working on his shot," Brown replied excitedly to TrueHoop's Henry Abbott when asked what they had been doing with Embiid short of on-court activity.
If you remember, Nerlens Noel spent a huge chunk of his sidelined time last season working on his shooting touch; before games, during practice, after practice. Noel was constantly trying to improve upon his touch, and the work has been evident in his shooting stroke this season. Embiid, who already has a more polished shooting stroke and offensive arsenal than Noel, will benefit from similar work.
Brown then emphasized another area with which the team had been working with Embiid.
"We're really going overboard with his diet," Brown confessed, without providing exact details of the diet. "I think his diet and weight will dramatically influence his speed of recovery and return to play."
While Embiid's speed of recovery is not necessarily a priority for the patient Sixers, the quality of his play upon his return is, of course.
When asked for similarities he sees between Embiid and other established NBA players, Brown paused for a moment.
"You feel reckless throwing out the names I would throw out because it's such early days," he eventually replied.
"When I scouted him in college I saw hints of Olajuwon in him," he continued, touching on a common comparison for Embiid.
"I saw discipline in the post like Tim Duncan. There was a skill, like Al Jefferson, where he had a post move. All wrapped up into this 19-year old young man that just burst onto the college scene and then the NBA scene."
Brown realizes that his comparisons are high praise for someone yet to compete professionally, but he sees signs.
"Those names that I just said are quite flattering, and I have to use them responsibly, but there are hints of that. "
Despite the high praise from his head coach and others across the league's landscape, the 20-year old Embiid is far from a polished product, and if he hopes to ever reach the ranks of those he has been compared to a lot of work will be in store. The workload is to be expected however, especially for a kid who only started playing basketball five years ago. Embiid's skills have improved at such a rapid rate that he hasn't yet had the time to dedicate to developing his craft.
Brown acknowledged the difference in learning curve between Embiid and another NBA big man he is extremely familiar with.
"I think the difference with Joel say from Timmy [Duncan], is that Timmy had four years at Wake Forest. So Joel's one year of experience [at Kansas] is far shy from that four-year period that Timmy enjoyed to better prepare himself for the NBA."
Duncan's talent is universally respected, but that talent alone hasn't kept San Antonio successful for 17 seasons. In addition to basketball ability, intangibles, like leadership and communication, are often central to the sustained success of a superstar and his respective franchise. It is in this area that Brown is trying to craft Embiid into a true cornerstone of the franchise's future.
"We're really trying to go overboard and help him understand what leadership is," Brown explained.
"I'm desperately trying to build something that's not top-driven. I don't want it to be top-driven down. It needs to be the team dictating some rules and habits. And what is culture? What's the behavior we want amongst our players? And I think the most powerful way to do that is something that's player-driven."
In other words, Brown wants the crux of culture and leadership to fall not just squarely on his shoulders, but also on the shoulders of the prominent players on his team. In this way he feels that a franchise can find balance, and success.
"So, apart from his shot, and his diet, and his health, and his post moves, and studying Tim Duncan-type," Brown continued, almost chuckling at the laundry list of items of Embiid's injury-time 'to-do' list, "there's a whole other side of it."
Playing a part in Embiid's recovery, growth, and development is Luc Mbah a Moute, who the SIxers signed this offseason, largely to help mollify Embiid's move to professional play. Moute discovered Embiid at a camp in Cameroon, and began serving as a mentor for the quickly-blossoming baller.
In light of the Sixers' struggles this season, many have been calling for less minutes for Moute in favor of some more on-court development time for some of the team's younger players.
Brett Brown however remains committed to Moute, and the role that he serves on the young Sixers squad.
"That is the adult in the room,' Brown told Abbott, referring to Moute. "That is the senior voice in the room. J-Rich could be that, but he's not part of it through injuries, so I look at Moute as a real voice of reason and wisdom, and he is especially that with [Joel]."
The Sixers patient plan for Embiid sounds promising, and Brown certainly has ample experience in player development. It is now just a matter of Embiid getting completely healthy, getting back out onto the hardwood, and beginning to realize some of his potential.
Don't expect to see the center anytime soon, however. When asked when we may finally see Embiid in action, Brown replied:
"It's still up in the air."