Debating With Myself: An Exploration of Joel Embiid Chubbing It Up

Given the recent news about Joel Embiid’s reported weight gain, I’ve had a lot of thoughts on both sides of the issue. Here is me, arguing with myself about what to think about Jo-Jo going tubbo.

Point: We need to start by reminding ourselves that Joel Embiid is the Sixers most valued asset. Were he to be playing, he’d probably be their best player right now, let alone their best shot at becoming a franchise guy. I mean look at this:

Keep in mind, what you are seeing there is a kid who started playing basketball six years ago in an African nation that has two gymnasiums in the entire country. You are seeing that kid do things in the low post that Dwight Howard still can’t do. His talent cannot be questioned.

Counterpoint: Yes, maybe his talent can’t, but as of this week, his work ethic and attitude can. It all started with a report from Keith Pompey in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season. His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization. And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.”

It would be an issue if the future of your franchise gained 50 pounds in 10 months. There was definitely some room for Joel to bulk up for the NBA, but 50 pounds is a lot. That’s downright frightening. That’s on the level of another Philly favorite:

mac before and after

Point: As expected, it wasn’t long before we had a report refuting these facts. It came from Dei Lynam yesterday:

“‘I don’t weigh that,’ Embiid said in passing at a D.C. hotel Sunday night.”

“A team source backed him up, stating that 275 pounds has been the maximum weight for the 7-footer whom the Sixers selected with the third overall pick in last year’s draft.”

OK, so maybe he isn’t 300 pounds. In fact, Sixers beat reporter Derek Bodner made a good point about that number:

And where does that leave us? Mr. Bodner?

Hmmmm. So he’s gained weight, but no one knows how much and if they do, they aren’t saying anything. It seems like we won’t actually know numbers unless we get something like this:

joel biggest loser

Counterpoint: It shouldn’t matter what the number is! Clearly the bigger issue is a lack of work ethic and self-control. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who’s addicted to pink lemonade and drinks it by the gallon! And look at these stories from Bleacher Report’s profile of Embiid:

“He’s developed a fondness for chicken and can often be found at KFC or Jefferson’s, a popular Lawrence eatery where he orders the “atomic, double-dipped” chicken wings. A chocolate lover, Embiid has also discovered Nutella. It’s not unusual for Embiid to buy a bag of croissants, slice them in half and make Nutella sandwiches.

“I’ve seen him eat six in one sitting,” Roberts said. “And he once ate 21 brownies with ice cream. I’ve never seen anyone eat like that.””

That’s crazy! They are talking about a college athlete, not a scene in Heavyweights. And on top of that, skipping workouts? Just because he’s not cleared to play doesn’t mean his attitude should be in question. That’s the biggest red flag out there.

Point: It’s never been an issue before. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Jason King, in that Bleacher Report piece, left no doubts about Joel’s dedication. He tells an anecdote about head coach Bill Self telling his players to have some fun during their annual Midnight Madness practice. Embiid took this too far, with a few behind-the-back passes and launched three balls, and Self reemed him out. Embiid then returned to the gym later that night, deep in the wee hours, to get some shots up.

Self is quoted in that piece saying, “He’s been unbelievable as far as listening goes…We never have to tell him something twice…He knows he’s got a lot to learn. No question. But he’s done a great job of understanding the things we think are his shortcomings and working hard to eliminate those.”

Counterpoint: So that was then and maybe this is now. Both reports, from Pompey and Lynam, stress reports that he has skipped conditioning and had a run-in with trainer Jason Davis. He was sent home from a road trip!

“Embiid, however, hasn’t always been a willing workout participant, according to sources. He’s even blown off conditioning drills, one source added. An altercation with Davis during the West Coast trip, coupled with Brown’s wanting him to be in “more of a structured, stable environment,” pushed the Sixers to send him home, the sources said.” – Pompey

“According to the Inquirer report, Embiid’s return from the trip was also due to a confrontation with trainer James Davis. That was neither confirmed nor denied, but sources say Embiid has expressed his frustrations with multiple people on the staff when working out this season.” – Lynam

That doesn’t strike me as someone who is a willing listener or dedicated to getting back on the court in the best shape possible.

Point: Well, I think that’s a stretch. We can’t know what Joel Embiid’s mental state is. He’s 20 years old. He lives 6,000 miles away from home. His younger brother died 3 months ago. He hasn’t been able to play the game he’s grown to love in a long time. You don’t want to make excuses, but all of this adds up.

Brett Brown knows this and has said as much. This is from Pompey’s original report:

“He’s boxed up in a big man’s frame,” Brown said. “He is frustrated at times when he isn’t playing. He can’t play. And I just feel like there are a lot of things going against him.”

Counterpoint: But there’s no denying that he’s gained weight and I’d wonder what this means for a guy who’s already shown troubles with injury. He hurt his back and his foot in succession and hasn’t played since.

Point: Yes, but for the Sixers purposes, he hasn’t needed to play. He’s probably going to go full-Nerlens and not play this season, or at least stay out until late Spring. For now, he’s working on his shot and getting healthy.

And being a goofball. Despite this Sixers team being oodles of fun, Jo-Jo continues to be the most fun member of the team. It’s not even really close. So if you could guarantee that he’ll be back to playing weight and healthy next season, and we get a few months of Beefy Embiid for fun/comedy purposes, I take that trade.

Counterpoint: You won’t be laughing if he’s Greg Oden or Andrew Bynum.

Point: Gosh, why are you such a dork, Counterpoint Shane?

♦     ♦    ♦    ♦     ♦

Final thoughts: I think there’s a one main takeaway; Joel Embiid’s process is on-going and a few extra pounds right now is not an issue. I don’t think the reports of lack of maturity mean much. He’s young and in a tough spot. All indications lead us to believe that when trainers give Embiid the go ahead to get to work, he’ll do so whole-heartedly. Most importantly, nothing that’s happened over the past week makes me think for a second that Joel Embiid doesn’t have what it takes to be an elite NBA center.

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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