By Mary Cunningham
Two days after announcing that Joel Embiid had hit a snag in his attempted return from injury, the Sixers changed their star center’s designation from “out indefinitely” to “out for the season.”
From yesterday’s announcement:
“The assessment of Monday’s follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid’s left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan,” said Sixers Chief Medical Director and Co-Chief of Sports Medicine Orthopedics at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center Dr. Jonathan Glashow. “We will continue to work with leading specialists to gather additional information through clinical examination and sequential testing to determine the best course of action and next steps.”
Embiid’s status is changed from out indefinitely to out for the remainder of this season.
“Our primary objective and focus remains to protect his long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court,” said Sixers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo. “As our medical team and performance staff continue their diligence in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of Joel’s injury, we will provide any pertinent updates when available.”
The Embiid news comes five days after the 76ers announced they had shut down 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons for the remainder of what would have been his rookie season due to continued complications in his ongoing recovery from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot.
The 76ers selected Embiid with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but missed the first two seasons of his professional career with foot injuries before finally getting healthy enough to play this season. Even operating under a minutes restriction intended to preserve his body, Embiid was a revelation in the first half of the season, a one-man wrecking crew who almost single-handedly elevated the long-moribund Sixers from the ranks of the NBA’s worst teams to something approaching respectability on the court.
Through 31 games, Embiid has averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.1 assists in just 25.4 minutes per game. Extrapolate those numbers over 36 minutes of floor time, and you’re talking about a level of per-minute production only matched in years past by guys like Kareem, Shaq, Ewing, the Admiral and Anthony Davis. Focus on just the scoring and rebounding in players’ rookie seasons, and the list of comparables turns up just two players: Wilt Chamberlain and Walt Bellamy, both Hall of Famers, both of whom entered the league more than 55 years ago.
Through the first half of his first season, Embiid looked every ounce a generational talent. He marries balletic footwork with brute force on the block, featuring an array of pivots, counters and spins that have evoked comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, and that have tortured opponents into sending him to the free-throw line once every 3.2 minutes of floor time, a monster rate). He’s also got a deft enough touch from the perimeter — a 36.7 percent mark from 3-point range on 3.2 attempts per game — to force defenses to respect him 25 feet away from the rim, giving his Sixers teammates more space to operate in the half-court than they’ve seen in years.
The 7-2, 275-pound Embiid pairs that offensive game with defensive skills that already have him profiling as arguably the most effective rim protector in the league this season. The Sixers have allowed a microscopic 99.1 points per 100 possessions when Embiid’s been on the floor — a mark that would make Philly the No. 1 defense in the league over the course of the full season — compared to conceding 108 points-per-100, a bottom-10 defensive rating, when Embiid sits.