Well, the Philadelphia 76ers have received some brutal injury news. After dislocating his finger in the Sixers’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Joel Embiid has been diagnosed with a torn radial collateral ligament in the fourth metacarpal in his left hand.
The Sixers say Joel Embiid has a torn radial collateral ligament in the fourth metacarpal in his left hand. There is still no timetable for his return. He continues to consult with doctors about next steps.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 9, 2020
Update: Embiid is now set to have surgery on Friday and will be re-evaluated over the next couple of weeks.
Joel Embiid will have surgery tomorrow in New York. He will be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) January 9, 2020
“I don’t know about the foreseeable future,” Brett Brown said when addressing the news, per The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. “It is disappointing for him not to play tonight, of course.”
“We’ll learn more, all of us, very soon.”
There’s no need to go into much depth about the massive impact of Embiid’s absence. He’s easily the team’s best player, their top scorer, and their defense just isn’t the same without him. Given the struggles Al Horford has had recently, who hasn’t looked 100 percent himself since returning from having knee issues on December 15, the timing for this injury is even worse than it might have been.
That said, one of the key reasons the Sixers signed Horford is for him to step in as an excellent back-up center for times like this, so hopefully for Philly he can get back into form while stepping into a position that suits him better offensively.
It would also be smart for the Sixers to mix up their defensive coverages somewhat, and utilize some more aggressive hedging against pick-and-rolls. Horford can’t replicate the same success the Sixers have with Embiid in deep drop coverage — Horford lacks the size and ability to deter/block shots at that level when sitting back at the rim. Mixing in some new looks so Horford can pester opponents away from the basket with his mobility could help.
Brown has already shared some fiery comments about making stylistic changes without Embiid.
This is an all-time Brett Brown quote. We're going to put a bullet in the game plan... but also just move the furniture around. pic.twitter.com/NdY7C1ebUS— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) January 9, 2020
Ben Simmons has been playing exceptionally well lately, with averages of 17.1 points (56 percent shooting), 10.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1 block over the last 8 games, accompanied by his typically elite defense. It’s time for Simmons to keep this going as the Sixers’ pace inevitably increases, Horford shifts to his best position at center, and more four-out lineups lead the way for the offense.
Simmons has been successful with more possessions as a roll man recently (I wrote about this in depth here). The Sixers should look to keep unlocking this element of his skill-set now he’ll have more space to work with, and also make the most of Horford’s playmaking — he’s a sharp passer on the move and as a roll man, too.
It’s also worth noting how effective the Sixers have been with quicker, more spacious lineups this season. Even though the defense obviously isn’t as imposing as it is with Embiid roaming the court, they’ve had success. In 524 minutes with Simmons and Horford on the floor without Embiid this season, the Sixers have a 112.3 offensive rating (for perspective, that’s the equivalent of the 4th-best offense in the NBA) and a +7 net rating.
Meanwhile on the bench, a new battle for backup center minutes will emerge between Kyle O’Quinn and Norvel Pelle.