PHILADELPHIA – Out injured for two full seasons before this one, Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid not only was named the Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month for December on Monday, but he’s also clearly the clubhouse leader for Rookie of the Year.
That’s despite playing on an expanding minutes’ limit because of the foot injuries that sidelined him for those two full seasons after the 76ers drafted him third overall in 2014.
“Jo-jo?” said Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, Embiid’s former Kansas teammate. “He’s a monster. He has been a monster since Kansas. He’s a good player, a big man who can do stuff that guards do. Very talented, very gifted.”
The East’s Rookie of the Month for both November and December, Embiid entered Tuesday’s game averaging 18.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shot while playing fewer than 25 minutes a game. He scored 25 points with eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks Tuesday.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau calls Chicago guard Derrick Rose’s recurring knee injuries his “frame of reference” through which he views what Embiid is doing.
“It’s very difficult in this league to go one year without playing,” Thibodeau said. “So to go through a second year like that — particularly when you haven’t been in the league — that’s a tough challenge. Mentally, he has seemed to have handled it extremely well.”
City of Brotherly Love
Wolves guard Tyus Jones visited former Duke teammate Jahlil Okafor on Monday night and then the two who have known each other since third grade chatted again briefly Tuesday.
“That’s my brother, that’s my best friend,” Jones said. “Blood couldn’t make us any closer.”
Off the mark
Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns entered Tuesday’s game shooting 24.4 percent (19-for-78) from three-point range in his previous 21 games after he shot 43.1 percent (22-for-51) in his first 13 games. Towns was 1-for-6 on threes Tuesday.
“It’s important to have a balance,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t want him to settle all the time on the three. He can shoot the three. He can put it on the floor. He can post. As long as they’re the right threes — the corner three is very good for him — but I also want him to attack the rim.”
Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine never has been much of a New Year resolution guy, but this year he vows to a better, more consistent defender off the ball.
Asked how he intends to fulfill his resolution, he said, “A lot more focus. Like everything, you have to work at it. You know, practice makes perfect, man.”
• Sixers guards Gerald Henderson (hip) and Sergio Rodriquez (ankle) and forward Richaun Holmes (concussion protocol) didn’t play. No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons still hasn’t played this season. “We have five bigs, four wings and a point guard,” coach Brett Brown said.
• Philadelphia connections: Wolves assistant coaches Ed Pinckney and Rick Brunson sought extra tickets. Pinckney starred on Villanova’s unforgettable 1985 NCAA championship team.
Brunson played at Temple and his son Jalen starts for undefeated and top-ranked Villanova.
• Jones on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s indefinite medical leave because of back pain: “We’re sad to hear that and hope he gets healthy quick. Knowing Coach, he’d do anything to push through and be sure he’s there for his team. I know he’s hurting.”
•Brunson and GM Scott Layden visited Villanova’s practice on Tuesday.