Despite coming out of their opening round matchup with the Toronto Raptors victorious in six games, the Sixers barely had time to celebrate before being hit with the harshest possible dose of reality.
On Friday, the team announced that Joel Embiid is out indefinitely with an orbital fracture and a mild concussion. While there is still no clear timetable for his recovery, early indications are that the fracture won’t necessitate surgery, leaving the door open for a possible Embiid return in their second-round matchup with the Miami Heat.
Regardless, the Sixers will likely be without their superstar for the foreseeable future as they go up against the top seed in the conference. To fill that massive void, Doc Rivers said that the team will employ a next-man-up mentality and explore all the options available to them, namely Paul Reed, Paul Millsap, DeAndre Jordan, and rookie Charles Bassey.
“That’s what we’re gonna do,” Rivers said at practice today. “We’re gonna play center by committee.”
Reed was the sole beneficiary of the backup center minutes against the Raptors, and he put together an admirable showing despite his youth and lack of meaningful regular season minutes. In all, he averaged 4.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.7 steals in ten minutes per game against Toronto. With the Raptors turning to longer, more athletic lineups over the course of the series, Reed was able to provide a much-needed dose of switch-ability on defense and activity on the boards.
Rivers said he was more than pleased with Reed’s performance, specifically pointing to the minutes he played alongside the four usual starters in James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, and Tobias Harris. In the 17 total minutes that lineup was featured against the Raptors, they posted a net rating of +48.7 with a 151.4 offensive rating and a 102.7 defensive rating.
“We were trying to figure out the best way to help him, and our first thought was playing with the starters,” Rivers said. “We took Joel out early and that way he played with four starters. I thought that helped him.”
Assuming Reed is, in fact, inserted into the starting lineup, that leaves Jordan, Millsap, and Bassey as the ones competing for the back-up minutes. All three have their own glaring shortcomings. Millsap and Jordan were Doc’s preferred back-up options throughout most of the second half of the season, and their stints on the court, for the most part, featured more bad than good. Bassey, who is continuing to progress in his recovery from a shoulder strain he suffered earlier in the month, played all of 168 minutes in the regular season, with his most recent outing coming in mid-February.
Nevertheless, all four should be expected to get a crack at playing time throughout the series, with Doc pointing to Miami’s knack for drawing fouls and making teams pay in that regard. Jordan indicated that they’re all up for the task.
“We got ‘Sap, Paul Reed has been playing great, myself, I think Charles Bassey is even close,” Jordan said. “So we’ll pick up the slack for the big fella and for our team until he gets back.”
Navigating a series against the best the Eastern Conference has to offer was already going to be a tall order. Doing so without the services of their MVP finalist will only make it tougher. In the meantime, the Sixers will have to weather the storm in any way they can.
“We need him back at some point but we don’t know when,” Rivers said. “We got to hold the fort. This is why we pay everybody. And this team has a great belief system. We’ve had a lot of stuff thrown at us this year with guys out. Maybe this is another test in that, but we’re going nowhere. I can tell you that. This team will be ready when we get to Miami.”