Joel Embiid hasn’t been himself thus far this season. In a 2-2 start for the Philadelphia 76ers, the All-Star big man is averaging career lows in both points (19.3) and rebounds (7.3) per game. Knee soreness is the culprit, but according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the situation is more serious than initially believed. He reportedly told her that he didn’t walk for two days after suffering a knee injury against the New Orleans Pelicans last Wednesday — the same knee he tore his meniscus during the first round last postseason.
According to Shelburne, “there is a sense that maybe he should sit a game or two to get that knee right,” but Embiid is playing through the pain because of the absence of Ben Simmons. The two of them create the overwhelming majority of Philadelphia’s shots and were the anchors of their excellent defense last season, but with Simmons still sitting out because he does not feel mentally ready to play, Embiid “wants to show leadership.”
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She also adds that Embiid is playing in part because he lost out on the MVP award last season by playing only 51 games. Eventual winner Nikola Jokic played in all 72. At this rate, though, missing games isn’t going to cost Embiid any awards. What happens when he’s playing will. As Shelburne noted, Embiid’s shooting in particular has taken a significant dip. After making over 49 percent of his mid-range attempts last season, he’s down to roughly 39 percent this season. Philly’s defense, which ranked second last season, is No. 24 at this point in the season.
A healthy Embiid, at this point, is Philadelphia’s only pathway to contention. Even if the 76ers have to sacrifice a few games to get him right, sitting him out might be their only option. There is no telling when Simmons might return to help alleviate some of Embiid’s responsibility, but for now, the 76ers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can either play a compromised Embiid and try to salvage some wins, or they can rest him and accept almost certain defeat.