The Nets’ rebuilding was always going to be near-impossible because they lack their own draft picks, presumably franchise-changing lottery ones to get a transformational player.
In the Nets’ 133-114 preseason-ending loss to the Sixers on Wednesday, Joel Embiid reminded them just how pivotal a young player of his caliber can be.
The oft-injured Embiid had 22 points, seven rebounds, hit 14-of-18 from the free-throw line and dominated on both ends of the court. And that was all in just 14:45 of his preseason debut — his first game since Jan. 27.
Transformational? Not even a question. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said the 23-year-old center isn’t one of the NBA’s best young players; he’s already one of the league’s top talents of any age.
“Without a doubt. He’s a top player in this league already. There’s no denying it,” Atkinson said. “He’s going to be a handful for everybody in this league, and he’s unique because he can go in the post and go out and he’s fast. I think the big real compliment is how he competes defensively. He blocks shots, he’s really an impressive young player.”
Too agile and athletic for Timofey Mozgov and too big and strong for any other Net, Embiid had 20 points and seven boards in just 11:28 in the first half, putting the Sixers on his back and putting the Nets in a 76-51 hole.
“He commands a lot of attention and he’s super talented offensively. When healthy he’s worth every last penny of his new contract, and also got to the free-throw line a lot,” Nets guard Jeremy Lin said of Embiid’s new five-year, $148 million deal.
“He’s got it all. I don’t see any flaws in his game,” D’Angelo Russell said. “Offensively he’s big as Shaq [O’Neal]. He can shoot it like Dirk [Nowitzki]. He’s got the whole package. The league — as far as bigs — he’s going to make some noise this year.”
Embiid was happy to be back and contribute.
“It felt great,” he said. “I didn’t [think it’d come this quick], but going back to the last couple games I missed before that Houston game that’s the type of player I want to be.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 12 points in 13:08 on 6-of-7 shooting, but left with a hand injury.
The Nets waived forward Akil Mitchell and guards Milton Doyle and Jeremy Senglin. Doyle and Senglin played summer league and had signed as free agents Aug. 4. Mitchell inked a free agent Sept. 24.
The roster now stands at 17 players. The Nets have the top spot in the waiver order with players set to be available when teams set their rosters by Oct. 16.