Last night, Most Valuable Player-front-runner Joel Embiid injured his knee on a dunk attempt against the Washington Wizards. Luckily for him and for basketball fans, Embiid’s MRI revealed no structural damage, and he’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks.
But it’s fitting that Embiid still managed to torch the Washington Wizards for 23 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in just 20 minutes before hyperextending his knee. That half-performance arrives within a season that has featured five games of at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. And, as noted a few days ago, this incarnation of Embiid may be the most unstoppable we’ve seen from the center position, some of us ever, others since at least Shaquille O’Neal:
“Most notably, in this guard-driven league, Embiid’s averaging 30 points this season, which is primarily a feat achieved by guards like Harden, Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Michael Jordan. If Embiid does remain at or above the 30-point per game threshold, he’ll be the first big man since Karl Malone (1989-1990) and first center since Moses Malone (1981-1982) to net this historic mark.”
His sheer dominance and efficiency encapsulate the player he’s transformed into this season, which makes his untimely injury even more dispiriting. It’s an unfortunate reminder of the outlier Embiid is when healthy. It’s been seven years since Embiid was drafted, but he’s missed 229 regular-season games — including his entire first two seasons on the Philadelphia 76ers payroll — and another three in the playoffs. During that same stretch, he’s played 273 games, including 240 in the regular season. Thus far, the injuries have been part of the Embiid experience, but fortunately, he’ll reportedly be back soon.
And on the court, as great as he’s been, this also opens the door for those who have benefitted from his excellence. Ben Simmons is arguably the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, but will have a chance to make some offensive advancements when he returns on Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs from COVID protocol. Tobias Harris, who had a legitimate All-Star case at one point this season, not only is having a career-year, but has experience leading a Doc Rivers offense (back when they were with the Clippers). Harris is averaging 20.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and has field goal, three-point, and free-throw shooting splits of 51.5 / 40.0 / 88.6. He’s also second on the team, following Embiid, in key advanced metrics like win shares (3.8), offensive box plus-minus (2.7), and offensive rating (119). (The latter two disregard Tony Bradley, who has logged less than 160 minutes this season.)
Over the next two weeks, the Sixers will see the New York Knicks twice, Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers, both in L.A., among others. The Sixers might need more than just growth from Harris and Simmons to hold their place at first in the Eastern Conference, so expect increased responsibilities for Bradley, Shake Milton, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard. If Tyrese Maxey could showcase what he did earlier this season, that would be welcomed for the Sixers, too.
It’s also worth noting that the NBA Trade Deadline is on March 25, and Embiid’s injury may entice the Sixers to fortify their roster if they deem it necessary.