To answer the question at hand, we channel our inner Stone Cold Steve Austin for an “Oh Hell Yeah!”
So, before jumping into the obvious, it is important to take note of a couple of factors surrounding Joel Embiid and his health history. Most NBA fans are aware that “The Process” was sidelined with a foot injury that sidelined him for the first two years of his NBA career.
In fact, Embiid and the sidelines have become good friends since he entered the league as part of the 2014 NBA Draft, playing in just 31, 63, 64, 51, 51, 68, 66, and, as of this writing, 34 games (this season).
A five-time All-NBA, six-time All-Star, and last season’s Most Valuable Player, the Sixers’ big man is the focal point of a team that has been among preseason title contenders since his arrival but has yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
Extent Of Injury
Although the Sixers reshuffled the deck by moving perennial All-Star James Harden to the LA Clippers for what amounted to four little-used role players and a number of draft picks and draft pick swaps, Philadelphia has still managed to remain among the top teams in the Eastern Conference for most of the first half of the season. Thanks in large part to Embiid’s stellar play.
With concern to the recent injury to Embiid’s knee, which only worsened during Tuesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors, many believe that the Sixers’ star may have felt pressured into playing through his injury after yet another DNP against Nikola Jokic when the Sixers traveled to Denver to face the Nuggets, who are the best team in Denver basketball leagues according to ClutchBuzz and also the current NBA champions.
Although Embiid had taken to the court for a pre-game workout, it would be deemed less than thirty minutes before tip-off that his leg was not in optimal playing shape.
Two nights later, the Sixers took on the lowly Portland Trail Blazers, trotting out a shell of their starting roster, which resulted in a 130-104 pounding by the fourth-worst team in the league. Had Philadelphia been playing with a healthy lineup, likely would have seen the score reversed.
Embiid’s Absence Impact
Taking on the Golden State Warriors, a team that hasn’t had a significant presence in the paint since Andrew Bogut played in 2015-16, it seemed as though Embiid would have a relatively easy night. Matched up against Draymond Green, Dario Saric, and Kevon Looney for most of his thirty minutes on the floor, Embiid’s night came to an end early, finishing with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists.
The Sixers’ 119-107 loss would mark the first time in 22 games that Embiid failed to reach the 30-point mark. Still, more importantly, it would see Embiid hobble off the floor after Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga accidentally landed on his left knee while the two were fighting for a loose ball.
Although Sixers’ coach Nick Nurse stated after the game that the injury had no relation to the one that kept Embiid on the sideline for two straight games and hobbling from time to time against the Warriors, Philly fans can only hold their breath and hope that the issue will not be long term. Thankfully, the team has built enough of a cushion that they should not fall too far in the Eastern Conference standings.
Who Can Cover For Joel?
Should Embiid be sidelined for an extended period of time, Philadelphia would be forced to rely on a combination of Paul Reed and Mo Bamba to patrol the paint, not exactly a pair of big men who highlight opponents’ scouting reports. Sure, Reed had a 30 and 13 night against Jokic and the Nuggets, but that is certainly not the norm for the fourth-year pro, who averages 6.2 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Throwing Bamba into the fire likely wouldn’t provide much more as the New York-born big man has struggled with injuries of his own over the past few seasons and is currently averaging 4 points and 3 boards. Combined, the two pale compared to the 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists that The Process provides.
Looking ahead at the Sixers’ schedule heading into the All-Star break, matchups with Brooklyn (Nic Claxton), Dallas (Derek Lively), Cleveland (Jarrett Allen), and Miami (Bam Adebayo) provide Philadelphia with the toughest big men matchups should Embiid be sidelined for a duration of time.
Prior to Embiid’s injury, the focus of the Sixers’ trade deadline talk had centered around adding a guard/wing threat such as Zach LaVine, Royce O’Neale, Bojan, or Bogdan Bogdanovic (not related), Keldon Johnson or Dorian Finney-Smith. An extended Embiid absence, which will be known more following his MRI (scheduled for Wednesday), could mean that the Sixers’ management redirected their trade focus to pick up more depth in the paint.
Names In The Trade List
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of impactful names on the trade block that the Sixers’ are likely to get due to cap reasons and fit. Nikola Vucevic (Bulls) is too expensive, Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson (Pacers) won’t move the needle much more than Reed and Bamba,
Atlanta’s Clint Capela could be an interesting get if the Hawks are blowing things up, as he is on an expiring contract next season. The Washington Wizards are terrible and could be willing to part with Daniel Gafford. Same with Utah’s Kelly Olynyk.
As for Embiid’s personal accolades this season, any thought of a back-to-back MVP is out the window as he has only played in 34 games and would have to play in 31 of the Sixers’ remaining 34 games to reach the newly instated minimum 65 game mark set by the NBA.
After being one of the top two candidates, during the first half of the season, the award at this point should be neither Embiid nor the Sixers’ main focus moving forward.