The Philadelphia 76ers are without all-star Joel Embiid. But that doesn’t mean all is wrong in the City of Brotherly Love.
The three-time All-Star suffered a torn radial collateral in the fourth metacarpal in his left hand in a game against the Oklahoma Thunder on January 6. The exact diagnosis of a dislocated ring finger may be of interest to medical professionals, but the laypeople of Sixers Nation just know they’re waiting on pins and needles as Brett Brown’s squad competes without its captain.
The 25-year-old has missed nine games through January 26. Per gooner news, Sixers officials were initially hopeful he would return in time for the January 25 home clash against the Los Angeles Lakers. That return date proved too optimistic, and Embiid remains out for the time being.
Embiid is making progress and eyes a return to action before the end of January. He was cleared for conditioning drills on January 16 and resumed full practice a week later, a move that coincided with the seven-footer being named a 2020 NBA All-Star Game starter for the second consecutive season.
I’m doing the progress necessary. I feel great” Embiid told reporters. “I’m not too concerned about what the All-Star game is gonna look like. Right now, we’re sixth in the East so hopefully by next week I’m able to play.”
Embiid was averaging 23.4 points, 12.3 boards, and 3.3 assists per game before the hand injury. He led the Sixers in points, rebounds, and blocks. An update on his return timeline is expected following an examination on January 27.
Sixers Continue Atlantic Division Roll
The results so far are good for a Sixers Nation wondering how an Emiid-less lineup would fare. Philly has posted a 6-3 record since the big man went down. They continue to swim alongside the defending champions Toronto Raptors, and the Boston Celtics in a competitive Atlantic Division.
At press time, Philly’s 30-17 record is third in the division. Toronto leads by a game over Boston. The Sixers trail Boston by a game. The club’s 21-2 record at the Wells Fargo Center is tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best home record in basketball.
While losing Embiid is a blow to Philly, it’s presented an opportunity for others to step into productive roles. Philly has remained a viable playoff team throughout Embiid’s absence, a notion supported by oddsmakers giving the Sixers a top ranking among likely Eastern Conference winners.
Furkan Korkmaz has contributed nicely off the bench, including a career-high 24 points in a 100-89 win over Chicago on January 17.
Ben Simmons, Philly’s other All-Star caliber performer, is ensuring the team continues to run a tight ship. The top draft pick of 2016 was averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 assists, and 7.5 rebounds per game prior to Embiid’s departure.
Simmons has boosted those numbers to 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 7.9 assists since. For the season, he’s averaging more points, boards, and assists when Embiid isn’t sharing the floor.
Simmons is providing his teammates some much-needed insurance. Brown certainly likes what he’s seeing. High praise of Simmons’s ability to deliver from multiple positions has become part of the coach’s post-game remarks.
Richardson’s departure presents an additional hurdle
Despite a mostly-rosy run without Embiid, Philly isn’t out of the woods when he returns.
Josh Richardson, who played a strong role bolstering the Sixers through Embiid’s absence, suffered a strained hamstring against Toronto on January 22. The shooting guard was averaging 15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.
Richardson will be out for two to three weeks. His minutes on the court are currently split between Korkmaz, Trey Burke, and Shake Milton.
Richardson’s injury makes Embiid’s return more urgent on paper. The Sixers currently lack personnel options and may take to the trade market in search of help if Embiid’s upcoming evaluation presents another delay.
Philly has resiliently scraped together a cluster of wins without its mainstay. How long does the hot streak continue with two starters missing from action? Brown’s answer seems to be “as long as we need to.”
The Sixers defied expectations, beating the Western Conference-leading Lakers 108-91 on the night LeBron James surpassed Kobe Bryant for third place among the NBA’s all-time leading scorers. A pair of contests against the NBA’s worst teams round out the month.
Philly will face the Golden State Warriors (10-37) on January 28, and the Atlanta Hawks (11-35) on January 30.
Embiid has a history of injuries
Embiid’s latest injury isn’t his first rodeo on the inactive list.
He suffered a stress fracture in his back towards the end of his brilliant one-and-done college season at the University of Kansas in 2014. The injury caused Embiid to sit out the final weeks of the college season and the NCAA tournament.
Doctors also discovered Embiid had a broken foot. That injury came with two screws to the navicular bone and an initial four-to-six month recovery period.
Prior to the injuries, Embiid had been roundly cited as the best big man and a top-three pick entering the 2014 NBA Draft. Some analysts began to mark down his stock afterward. Still, Philly plucked Embiid as the third overall pick in the draft in hopes he would return to action during the 2014-15 NBA campaign.
That never happened.
Embiid missed the 2014-15 and 2015-16 NBA seasons as the Sixers took a slow, methodical approach to rehab their prized acquisition. He was assigned a minutes restriction and planned rest days once he finally made his pro debut in 2016-17. That didn’t stop the Cameroonian from crushing opponents during his playing time.
Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per game in his 31 appearances. He battled through left knee pain for two months before requiring season-ending surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus in March.
Embiid managed to fend off various back, face, ankle, and hand issues while playing full seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He was named to the NBA All-Star Game in both years.