It's hard to think of two important men who entered the season loaded with more questions than Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond. The first was a victim of poor health, the other a victim of the rhythm and space era.
Embiid was drafted in third overall in 2014, and he only fell so low due to a stress fracture in the back and a fractured right foot. More injuries accrued even before he made his NBA debut. Upon entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, the seven-foot center had played in only 31 of the possible 246 games of his career.
Sixers fans were implored to "Trust the process," a mantra that Embiid embraced to the point, baduming it as his pseudo-nickname. So far this season, it has been worth every second of waiting. The great man born in Cameroon is averaging 22.9 pionts, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest, the numbers matched or improved only by the New Orleans twin towers Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
Embiid's success could be matched by his confidence, which knew no limits when he was offside for almost three seasons. He is an avid garbage narrator, both during games and through social networks. He has used both fronts to make war on another important man of the Eastern Conference that is becoming relevant: Andre Drummond.
The great man of the Pistons is the opposite of Embiid in almost every way. Detroit fans could see him immediately after he was drafted ninth overall in 2012. He has lost only three games in total in the last four seasons.
Unlike Embiid, Drummond is not a revolutionary show of versatility. He does not shoot triples, nor does he like to dribble beyond a power movement that takes him directly to the hoop. He is a traditional center, someone who enjoys blocking shots at one end and submerging at the other. In today's NBA, which punishes teams that lack versatile scores everywhere, that kind of one-dimensional big man is almost extinct.
Drummond seemed in danger of that evolution, especially after the Piston's disappointing performance last season. He found himself unable to remain on the ground during the crunch given his worst league mark of 38.6 percent from the free throw line. His talent was undeniable. His adjustment in the modern game was under scrutiny.
Not anymore. The sixth year center has improved the worst parts of his game (free kick, pbad) while keeping the best. Already a prolific rebounder, Drummond is averaging 15.2 boards of best race by contest. Meanwhile, his free throws have drawn attention, making an absurd jump to 63.9 percent (entering Friday night). He also became a prime-time player, averaging the fifth most badists (3.9 per game) among all the NBA centers.
It is impossible to applaud their respective performances with sufficient relevance … unless each one is talking about the other. So far this season, that conversation has produced nothing but insults and challenges between two young men who have an inside track for the All-Star honors of the Eastern Conference in February.
It started in October, with Embiid dropping 30 points on the Pistons and later proclaiming that Drummond "plays no defense".
The center of the Pistons learned of the insult and quickly responded with a Tweet that said "See you on December 2". He followed that challenge with more words on NBA TV.
See you on December 2
– Andre Drummond (@AndreDrummond) October 24, 2017
"You have to respect the game of man, he's a great player," Drummond said, "but he has to see me three or four times more for the rest of the season, so it's not going to happen more than once. "