After the Philadelphia 76ers were heavily criticized with a recent four-game losing streak, the Sixers, led by point-forward Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid, followed up with a four-game winning streak with the All-Star break punctuating the good vibes coming out of the City of Brotherly Love.
Simmons, a 23-year-old two-time All-Star in his third season, was diagnosed with a nerve impingement on Tuesday, with the initial timeline looking like at least two weeks sidelined. That’s around six games for the Sixers to be played without their star floor general, should Simmons indeed come back in just two weeks.
Six games can make or break the Sixers’ standing in the Eastern Conference. They’re 36-22 and fifth in the east as of Feb. 25, but Philly desperately needs to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
How do the Sixers survive without Simmons healthy?
Lean into Joel Embiid
Coincidentally, All-Star center Joel Embiid had the biggest game of his short career thus far on Monday, scoring 49 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a double-digit home victory over the conference’s worst team in the Atlanta Hawks.
Embiid and Simmons’ fit has long been questioned by skeptics due to the point forward’s non-shooting ability or activity, clogging up the paint. While Embiid can stretch outside and shoot from the perimeter, the 25-year-old Cameroon native boasts a wide array of inside and post moves that embarrass defenders.
Going forward, it would be difficult to imagine head coach Brett Brown to lean into Embiid’s stardom and see playoff-style basketball happening in Philly way before April, as the NBA’s fourth-best defense could change the pace of the game and slow it to grind.
Go small, start Tobias Harris in the frontcourt
Even worse than Embiid and Simmons’ on-court compatibility has been the Al Horford signing, who had been a center with the Boston Celtics and power forward/center before that in Atlanta.
It didn’t take long for Brown to realize Horford and Embiid’s tall frontcourt simply didn’t work, taking the vet out of the starting unit.
Instead, the Sixers should feature Tobias Harris more often in the future with Simmons sidelined. The second-leading scorer for Philly shoots 36.2 percent from 3-point range this season and could benefit from being close to a primary playmaker for the Sixers like his stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, which brought him to the east coast last year and landed him a big-time contract this past offseason.
Losing Simmons isn’t the end of the world for the Sixers, depending on the severity of the injury, although it is a blow to those who see Philly’s future as leaning into the Aussie instead of Embiid.
In order to survive moving forward—and thrive, given how the Sixers have only lost two home games—Philadelphia must prop up its other All-Star (Embiid) and fringe star (Harris), giving Brown’s team a very different look following Simmons’ ascension in the last three years.