Joel Embiid missed ten games due to a left knee injury and the Sixers did quite well in his absence. They went 7-3 before he returned in a win against the Timberwolves this past weekend. Embiid sat out yesterday, in a blowout home loss to Memphis, during the team’s second of a back-to-back. It was just the unit’s 5th home loss. And while they did relinquish the East’s top seed to the Nets recently, Doc Rivers and company would have surely taken these results upon learning Embiid would miss time. But one sort of creepy theme that has emerged over the last couple of weeks, however, has been Ben Simmons’ recent play. Is there something going on with Ben, and if so what?
Per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor today:
“Is there something wrong with Ben Simmons?
In 11 games since the All-Star break, Simmons is averaging 12.9 points on 45.5 percent shooting from the field. Within 8 feet of the rim, he’s shooting 48.1 percent, down from 63.1 percent over the prior 22 games. Sixers fans are fed up and confused. Simmons was playing with more aggression on offense than ever before. He attacked the rim with force. He seemed mad. Not anymore, though. He seems timid. He lacks power. Something is up.”
Occam’s razor might direct us to the simplest possible explanation: Simmons is just a bit banged up right now. He played a ton of minutes in an overtime loss to Milwaukee and his knee acted up and that probably explains what we’ve seen. Maybe that’s all it is.
I took a look last week at some splits surrounding the All-Star break, when the pattern began to emerge:
Some Ben Simmons recent splits:— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 2, 2021
-played 45 min vs. Mil on 3/17
-missed next game with sore knee
-No Embiid since 3/12, though that didn't slow him in Utah last Feb.
Hypothesis: playing through a sore knee to keep things afloat while Joel is out#Sixers pic.twitter.com/mahUrvJpMY
As noted, Simmons popped up on the injury report following the overtime defeat to the Bucks. Originally listed as probable to face Sacramento the next game, Simmons was a fairly late scratch. He missed that game on March 20th, and was listed with knee soreness on the injury report a couple more times thereafter, but he’s played in the team’s last 8 games. Has the issue lingered?
You might recall, Simmons dealt with some left knee swelling and soreness back in mid January. It was only about ten games into the season when he skipped a road trip to nurse the issue. Between that ailment and the trade rumors that surrounded him throughout the James Harden saga, Simmons didn’t really begin to play his best ball until after Harden was a Net and that story was resolved. Maybe between the knee issue and the possibility of being traded, Simmons slumped a bit earlier in the season but really broke out by late January.
Could there be something similar happening again this time? Per The Athletic’s Rich Hofmann, an interesting quote post game quote following the loss in Denver:
Ben Simmons: "There's a lot going on but you know, it is what it is. I gotta get my get my shit together. We got to get back on track as a team."— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) March 31, 2021
I’m not sure what he means by “a lot going on” but perhaps the issue is a combination of some soreness, having to play more minutes as a focal point of the offense (without a stretch five) and something else.
If Joel Embiid never got injured perhaps the Sixers might have given Ben a night or two off to deal with his knee and get his “s$it together.”
His finishing has really struggled at a time we might have expected him to play some of his best ball. Here, a look at some of the bunnies he’s missed during the recent slump:
With the playoffs not terribly far off the Sixers are going to need to take every precaution to get Embiid and Simmons to the regular-season finish line as healthy as possible. Maybe with Embiid’s return, we’ll see Ben sit out a game or two. We saw how things looked when they were not both healthy in the playoffs in 2019 (Embiid’s knee tendinitis) and again in 2020 (Simmons’ kneecap dislocation). Hopefully, the Sixers can rest Ben or help him get his blank together soon. Because before the most recent slump, he was really balling.