Al Horford

Saturday afternoon the 76ers released the following update on Ben Simmons injury. 

After consultation with the 76ers medical staff and several specialists, Ben Simmons will undergo surgery in the coming days to remove a loose body in his left knee. The loose body resulted from a left patella subluxation he suffered in Wednesday’s game against Washington.

He will leave the NBA Campus in Orlando for the surgery. Further updates will be provided following the procedure.

Don’t expect Ben Simmons back this season. Arthroscopic surgery is likely a 6-week recovery plus a ramp-up to game readiness. The Sixers would have to make the NBA Finals for him to have a chance. Finals begin in roughly 7 weeks. Simmons 24, should prioritize long term health. Without Simmons, all eyes will move towards Joel Embiid and the supporting cast. So what do we know about this team without Simmons?

At the halfway point of seeding games prior to the NBA playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers are developing an identity. Philadelphia came back in the second half to defeat the Orlando Magic, 108-101, Friday night. The team survived a miserable shooting night the old fashioned way–crashing the offensive glass and limiting turnovers. Before the game, Brett Brown predicted the Magic would “Send a swarm at Joel.” 

Clifford, who is a long-time family friend of Brett Brown, was able to send a defense that limited Embiid to just seven field goals on eighteen shot attempts. But ultimately, Embiid took care of the ball, got to the line thirteen times, and led the comeback. “I think Joel changed the game for us. In the second half, he didn’t care what was going on or what they were throwing at him,” Horford said of Embiid, who scored 23 points to go with 13 rebounds. “He was just gonna go dominate and be assertive, and when he has that mindset, all I can say is good luck.” High praise from the veteran big man, indeed. 

Al Horford 

As far as Al Horford is concerned, he represented the “physical presence,” per Brett Brown. “There is a kind of smash-mouth physical presence that we needed tonight,” said Brown, who remarked that in the first half, he believed the Sixers “were losing the physical battle”. Horford had five offensive rebounds to punctuate his 21 points and 9 rebounds. I asked Horford after the game how much opponents throwing double-teams at Embiid opens up offensive rebounds for others. Al, in a typically friendly and professional fashion, gently corrected me: “Not really. I see what you’re referring to, but you know my stuff is different. It was, our guards were driving. I was following the rim.” He continued to say that this is a point of emphasis. “Coach keeps stressing about the importance of us getting offensive rebounds, getting extra possessions.” 

Tobias Harris

Harris continues to quietly score 24 points per game for this team in Orlando. On Friday, he added 15 rebounds, including six offensive boards, to go with his 23 points. It’s hard to overstate the high regard in which his teammates hold him, but he is more productive on the stat sheet than many think. 

Shake Milton

After a very rough game versus Indiana’s attacking guards, Milton has had 15 assists to just 3 turnovers over the last three games, all wins. Milton displayed some of his craftiness Friday, dishing eight assists to only one turnover. 

Ben Simmons

There are no indications that Ben Simmons will be available to the team before the playoffs begin. In his absence, the team will likely try to work on playing more half-court offense. Opponents will likely just attack Embiid for now, but the real effects of losing Simmons will show after teams begin to understand the 76ers’ plan B and start to take away those other options. 

What to look for in the final stretch

The team will likely look to slow down the pace to more of a playoff-style half-court speed without the downhill Simmons. A slower pace will help Embiid on both ends. The 7’2″ center draws double teams on nearly every touch and has focused on “quarterbacking the gym” from the post since last summer. In training camp, Embiid pointed to an improved handle and ball security as key to his ability to handle double-teams. As crucial as that skill may be, more importantly, one may argue, is his ability to spot and hit teammates who are left open by the opposition.

Additionally, trade deadline acquisitions Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III will need to add punch off the bench. Burks was given ample opportunity to get buckets on Friday night. He finished with 22 points on 8-15 shooting in a 27-minute run. I asked Burks, who seemed less than enthused about the trade that brought him to Philly, about how he’s feeling now that he’s playing while Golden State is not in the bubble. He replied: “I take it day by day; I’ll keep that same energy day by day, game by game, practice by practice. Things change quickly in this league, so I’m just going to stay low and see how it goes.” Burks is a free agent at the end of the season and is playing for, among other things, a big payday. 

Robinson has yet to play since suffering a hip pointer in a scrimmage, but brings a vital skillset to the team, both as a defender and as a corner three threat. Korkmaz has decidedly struggled since seeding games began. Still, he is another piece of the puzzle that must be a net positive player in the top-9 rotation for this team to have an attack that pressures opponents on multiple dimensions.

 

Next: The Neto versus Burks Debate

Burks or Neto? Who should play?