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What Ben Simmons’ absence means for the 76ers

Tons of users over on AthletiQA.com are having discussions around women’s sports and why haven’t more men transistioned to watching it more. AthletiQA.com is an intelligent and social sports Q&A website where athletes, experts, and fans, are having discussions on the hottest and most relevant sports topics. Check it out at www.athletiqa.com.

Here is what Darius Joseph, one of the users had to say:

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This was supposed to be “their year.” No, not the year that the Sixers to compete for a playoff spot, but their year to finally see what their stash of draft picks from the last four years looked like on an NBA court together. Sadly, for the third time in four years, their top draft pick is now in jeopardy of missing his entire rookie season.

Ben Simmons underwent surgery Tuesday to address the acute Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot, leaving him out indefinitely. Now, this can mean a number of things, but given the fact that it’s being reported that “there’s no way his agent will let him play this season,” his chances of returning at some point this season do not look good.

Remember that this is the same injury that caused Kevin Durant to undergo three surgeries in six months. This type of injury can tend to linger long term, and there’s no reason to think the Sixers won’t take the long approach with their most prized possession.

While it certainly disappointing for NBA fans that we won’t be able to watch this year’s first overall pick, it especially disappointing for the Sixers franchise. People tend to forget that in the lockout shortened 2012 NBA season, the Sixers actually made it to Game 7 in the second round of the NBA playoffs with a lineup that featured Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic, Lou Williams, and Thaddeus Young.

The trade that sent the Sixers spiraling

Andrew Bynum trade. Since then, the Sixers franchise has been in shambles. This ill-advised trade set off an unfortunate trend of the Sixers front office repeatedly making head-scratching moves, acquiring players who would miss entire seasons at a time.

Following the 2012-13 NBA season in which Bynum failed to appear in a single game for the Sixers, they traded then-All-Star Jrue Holiday on the night of the 2013 NBA Draft for the rights to Nerlens Noel, who was rehabbing from an ACL tear sustained during his freshman year at Kentucky. It was widely reported that he would likely miss the entire season, which he did.

Amazingly, in the following 2014 NBA Draft, the Sixers proved they had not learned a thing from the past two seasons and again selected an injury prone big man who was also expected to miss the entire upcoming season: Joel Embiid from Kansas.

Embiid burst onto the scene during the 2014 college basketball season, drawing comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. Unfortunately, he also showed an alarming susceptibility to getting injured, as he missed time dealing with knee, back, and then foot injuries.

Prior to the NBA Draft, it was reported that Embiid had undergone surgery on his foot that would sideline him at least 4-6 months, and possibly the entire 2014-15 NBA season. Still, the Sixers took the bait and drafted Embiid at third overall. Not only did Embiid miss the entire 2014-15 season, but he also missed all of the 2015-16 season. Now healthy for the first time in three years, the 2014 Draft selection will debut with the 2016 NBA Draft class.

It should also be noted that in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Sixers had another first round pick. With the 12th overall pick, they selected Dario Saric of Croatia. In that pick, the Sixers again elected to take the long view, as it was reported that Saric would not come to the NBA for another couple years. Saric is a 6-foot-10 versatile playmaker who has been receiving a lot of praise and hype heading into this season, when he too will be making his NBA debut.

Next we move to the 2015 NBA Draft, in which the Sixers again showed their inability to pass on talented but flawed centers. They selected Jahlil Okafor of Duke with the third overall pick. Okafor was lauded as a dominant offensive center with little-to-no interior defensive presence. Miraculously, he actually appeared in 53 games, averaging a solid 17.5 points, 7 boards, and 1.2 blocks per game. He put up some nice but empty stats on a very bad team, and this offseason they tried hard to unload him but were unable to get a satisfactory return.

The here and now

This offseason, a lot has been made of the logjam the Sixers have at the center position. With Embiid finally healthy and ready to play, that means the Sixers now have to find a way to split up minutes between Embiid, Okafor, and Noel. While this is clearly not ideal for any of the three big men, it also reduces the risk of any of them suffering an injury, since none will be looking at huge minutes.

Still, while this has been a topic of concern this offseason for the Sixers, this was shaping up to be the first offseason in five years where there was a sense of optimism around the team. Finally, they would have all their young talent on the court at the same time. Perhaps this would be the year that the Sixers front office would finally look like geniuses for stockpiling all these players over the last few years.

joel embiid jahlil okafor nergens noel

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Sadly, with the injury to Simmons, who had no injury concerns about him prior to the draft and was supposed to be a can’t-miss prospect, the Sixers now are going to be without their top pick for the third time in four years. The Sixers clearly stated that they were rebuilding for the long haul, tanking games so blatantly that they frequently ran out a D-League caliber starting lineup – maybe this is the basketball gods getting back at them for doing so.

What to do moving forward

Now, the Sixers will be unable to evaluate their collective unit this season, and one has to begin to doubt whether this young core will ever be healthy enough to be on the floor at the same time. While Embiid is reportedly 100-percent going into this year, it is entirely possible that he suffers the same fate as Greg Oden and continues to suffer injuries, eventually leaving him out of the NBA. While obviously no one would wish this upon him, given his history, one has to be really nervous about his ability to avoid another serious injury.

The Sixers will likely be running out a starting lineup of Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas or Hollis Thompson, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor. They are clearly going to be bound for another lottery season, but this season now has to be all about developing Saric and seeing which of the three centers is going to be the key piece for the future.

There was a lot of excitement to see Saric and Simmons paired together, as both are bigger players who can also put the ball on the floor and create for others. While this duo will now have to wait to play together, Saric’s stock just went up a ton, and he should have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do this year. On a terrible team and with a nice all-around game, I would not be at all surprised if Saric puts up nice enough stats to have his name in the Rookie of the Year discussion.

Finally, we circle back to the three center dilemma the Sixers have on their hands. They already know what they have in Nerlens (assuming no major improvements from him this year): a high-motor, defensive-minded center who has stones for hands and little touch around the hoop. Okafor, on the other hand, is quite the opposite: a sometimes dominant offensive center with an array of moves, but a clear liability as a rebounder and defender. That’s where Embiid comes in, as he has the real ability to affect the game on both ends and be a true game changer for the Sixers. Unfortunately, none of their games really mesh well together, as none has the ability to play the stretch four or five (though it’s been reported that Embiid has greatly improved his shot).

The most likely scenario is that the Sixers let the three young men battle it out for minutes, while trying to showcase Okafor or Noel for a trade, and limiting Embiid’s minutes throughout the year. With the loss of Simmons, there are now more minutes to be pieced out between the three of them, assuming the Sixers employ some two-center lineups with each of the three playing a little bit at the four spot. The three giants certainly all have talent, and it will be up to them to figure out a way to play together, although it’s entirely likely that either Okafor or Noel will be dealt at some point this year.

At any rate, the situation is clearly less than ideal in Philadelphia, as it has been for the last five years. But now the focus must shift to seeing what you have on the rest of the roster. Simmons is the clear “guy” on that team, so now the staff needs to make an effort to put the pieces around him, which likely means making a trade or two, so that when he returns next season, they can hit the ground running and be an exciting basketball team.

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