Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on September 28.
Age: 27 (turns 28 on March 16th, 2022)
Contract status: $206 million and change, guaranteed via brand spanking new supermax extension, which should keep him in Philly through 2027, unless of course he holds out and tries to force a trade.
When in the lineup, Joel Embiid is one of the five best players in the NBA. While Ben Simmons (deservedly) enjoyed most of the Defensive Player of the Year buzz last season, Embiid is still one of the best defensive players in the league; arguably the Sixers most important defender, because of the added value of his elite rim protection. Often leaning on reputation alone, the mere presence of “The Process” lurking around the rim leads to countless settling by opposing guards. Watching the Sixers play you can often imagine the thought process of star ball-handlers who blow by the first line of defense: Goteem, OK time for a layup...oh there’s Joel, know what lemme test that awkward bank-floater I’ve been practicing...dang, let me take a halfcourt Euro-foul to slow up their break.
On the other end of the floor, Embiid provides absolutely relentless pressure on the interior of a defense.
Embiid averaged a hilarious league-leading 10.6 freebees per contest in 2021. He finally had a full offseason to work out and practice his game without any extensive rehab. No longer surrounded by Al Horford and Josh Richardson, he enjoyed the most spacing he’s seen since 2017-2018. He averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1 steal, 1.4 blocks, and connected on 38 percent from 3, 86 percent from the stripe, and 51 percent from the field. Yep, he’s the guy who justifies the 9 seasons Sam Hinkie once tanked during his three-season tenure at the helm.
The biggest question regarding Embiid’s upcoming season was about his health. He suffered a slight tear in his lateral meniscus back in May. And while he didn’t miss much game action, he wasn’t able to perform as well as his mid-season peak. An unusual 0-12 second half allowed the Hawks to climb back into game four. Similarly, it wasn’t like him to allow the Hawks to steal game 5 in Philly, after the team led by 26 points. Of course, this wasn’t all on Joel; far from it. But he’s the player you almost expect to put out any fires in situations like that. Embiid dealt with another long-term demon of his, which is turnovers, logging 21 giveaways in the final three games of the second round. If it were not for the Ben Simmons drama, we would probably have spent more time discussing how a potential injury may have impacted Embiid’s postseason play and how he might limit his turnovers. Nate McMillan’s squad certainly seemed to confuse him during crucial second-half junctures.
We learned that Joel did not need surgery on the knee this offseason and that is truly great news. So far, all indications are that this injury is in the rearview.
“Joel Embiid, 76ers (torn meniscus, knee): Embiid was hampered by the injury during Philly’s second-round seven-game series loss to the Hawks, but gutted it out to average 30.4 points and 12.7 rebounds against Atlanta. After a summer of rehab and rest, Embiid is a “full go,” per a league source, and will have a normal preseason load.”
The “health” elephant now discussed, there’s also the “Ben Simmons” elephant in the room. How will a Simmons holdout, or Simmons trade impact the Sixers’ season? If Ben is simply on the roster but not playing that doesn’t do much to help the team’s title chances. If indeed there is a trade at some point, we can better evaluate the season’s outlook. All we know today is that things are murky, and Joel, as well as the rest of the team are at a clear disadvantage until this is resolved.
Everyone is trying to catch up to the Nets. There’s also the Bucks, who won the title in case you forgot that when you look at the Nets’ roster. Both of those teams would clearly be above Philly in the Eastern Conference pecking order, even if Simmons were in the lineup. As it stands now...the Sixers have “middling team” in their range of outcomes, despite having one of the 5 best players in the league. There’s the chance that Simmons is here and holds out, and there’s the chance the team makes a trade that doesn’t improve their 2022 standing and might be contingent on a second trade, that may never even materialize until next summer. These types of scenarios risk disrupting what might wind up being the greatest season of Embiid’s career. It would be a massive shame to squander that.
The good news is this...you can still grab some snacks and get to watch Embiid play hoops for another season.