Brett Brown said he had no concern over Joel Embiid’s latest injury Sunday after the 76ers’ three-time All-Star center was held out of a 102-97 scrimmage loss to Oklahoma City Thunder with discomfort in his right calf.
When asked after the game in a Zoom interview about his concern, and Embiid’s concern about the injury, Brown responded, ““Neither of us have concern.”
Calming the fears of the rest of the 76ers faithful is another matter.
When it comes to Embiid’s well-documented injury history, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the fans to show some concern.
And so that brings us to rookie center Norvel Pelle.
With Al Horford starting in place of Embiid and playing well (13 points, 9 rebounds, 4 of 5 from three-point range), Pelle was the first center off the bench during the scrimmage at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
If Embiid and Horford are healthy, it’s likely that Pelle won’t see many minutes, unless foul trouble dictates an appearance or the game is a blowout.
Whether sitting Embiid was a precaution or not, the fact that Embiid has a long injury history and Horford is 34 might mean there will be a need at some point for a third center.
The options are Pelle and eight-year NBA veteran Kyle O’Quinn.
Pelle was the first center off the bench on Sunday and maybe the biggest surprise is that he took eight shots in just 15 minutes and 13 seconds.
To put that stat in perspective, in his 20 games with the Sixers this season, he never attempted more than four shots.
On Sunday his field-goal attempts were near the basket, many the byproduct of his being open when others were double-teamed.
The 6-foot-10, 231-pound Pelle also runs the court well. An example of his ability to run the court and convert came in the first quarter when he caught a long Ben Simmons pass and finished for the layup.
Pelle made only three shots, which again shows how raw he is offensively, but he also had six rebounds and four blocked shots. He also had four personal fouls and two turnovers.
For someone who began the year as a two-way player, Pelle has at least shown that he has one true NBA skill — the ability to block shots. He is averaging 1.3 blocked shots per game, tied with Embiid as tops on the team, albeit in 24 fewer games than Embiid.
“I thought he was excellent,” Brown said of Pelle afterward.
In the opening 90-83 scrimmage win over Memphis on Friday, Pelle played 9:47, hit all four field-goal attempts, including an improbable three-pointer, and had three rebounds and two blocked shots.
What’s interesting is that Pelle was replaced Sunday with 9:46 left by O’Quinn and did not return. Both teams went with mainly reserves in the fourth quarter. The Sixers didn’t have any of their starters play in the fourth quarter and the Thunder had just one, Luguentz Dort.
Usually Pelle is in when the reserves are playing out the string.
“It was my decision today without Joel to give Kyle O’Quinn, who has been an exceptional teammate, really a good vocal man to have in the locker room, giving him the opportunity,” Brown said. “Because of that I thought Norvel, when he was in the game, played really well. We decided to go with KO down the stretch and give him some minutes ...”